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CARL LAEMMLE 



THE 

LIFE AND ADVENTURES 



OF 

CARL LAEMMLE 

H 

BY 

JOHN DRINKWATER 

FOREWORD BY 

WILL H. HAYS 



ILLUSTRATED 



new york G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS London 

1931 



Copyright, 1931, by 
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS 



All rights reserved. This book, or parts thereof, mast 
not be reproduced in any form without permission. 




Made in the United States of America 



TO 



CAROL LAEMMLE BERGERMAN 

this story of her 
grandfather for 
her later cherishing 




FOREWORD 



To few men whose lives have been cast in the 
newer frontiers of civilization is the opportunity 
given to see, within their own period of vigour, 
the flowering of their wilderness into the land of 
their dreams. 

Such an honoured and fortunate man is Carl 
Laemmle. 

Within the past quarter century of his own life- 
time a great artistic development has been un- 
folded to the world. Within that brief period the 
screen has become an astounding vehicle for ex- 
pression of dramatic and pictorial art. From its 
early crudities has sprung a form of entertain- 
ment which knows no limits of race, of age or 
of geography in its appeal to mankind. It is one 
of the astonishing and sobering facts of human 
history. 

The story of the motion picture, both as an art 
and as an industry, is inseparable from the story 
of its pioneers. As Carlyle has said of history so 
may we say of the motion picture industry: It is 
the "essence of innumerable biographies." Men 
dreamt the moving picture into being ; men have 
dreamt of it as the great democracy of entertain- 



VI 



FOREWORD 



ment; and men are dreaming of its vaster future 
in the fields of entertainment, information and 
education. 

The pioneers of the screen were fired by the 
same vision that beckons men to the conquest of 
wilderness in territory or in thought. But the true 
pioneer is a dreamer, not a drudge. He struggles 
but to create. He dares but to achieve. 

Of such stuff and with such vision is Carl 
Laemmle. 

At the age of sixty-four he is still a vital figure 
in the industry which he helped to create. He has 
as great faith in its future as he had in its past. 
The motion picture industry has established, it is 
true, a vast agency of popular entertainment that 
has brought the stage, the concert hall and even 
the opera to the crossroads of the world. Year by 
year higher standards of public appreciation, 
linked to higher standards of motion picture pro- 
duction, enlarge its sphere of human service. 
Year by year technical and artistic progress bring 
the screen nearer to the day when it will reflect 
the highest possible entertainment forms to the 
most exacting and varied cultural groups. Its ulti- 
mate scope is the whole field of creative litera- 
ture; of artistic and dramatic progress; of musical 
culture. The service that it can render covers the 
realms of entertainment, of information, of edu- 
cation. 

What greater challenge to creative effort? Men 



FOREWORD 



vii 



have recreated the flower of their thought through 
the media of ink, paper and type. Artists have 
transferred the beauty that moved them to life- 
less canvas. Stone and clay have perpetuated the 
immortal genius of the great masters of the past. 
But with sound and colour, with motion and the 
promise of three-dimensional perspective, the 
screen as a medium of artistic creation stirs the 
faith and imagination of the future. 

It is not without significance that John Drink- 
water, the distinguished dramatic poet, whose 
charming and penetrating studies of Abraham 
Lincoln, Robert E. Lee, Robert Burns, Cromwell, 
Charles II and Pepys have established his status as 
a biographer, should have turned to industry for a 
new subject. There was a time when only kings 
and conquerors were considered fit subjects for 
the art of the biographer. Later the masters of art, 
science and literature were added to the rolls. 
And now leaders of industry whose achievements 
add to the history of progress have come within 
the circle of biographical interest. 

John Drinkwater has found it possible, in the 
painting of a vivid and living portrait of a man, 
to portray the phenomenal growth and develop- 
ment of both an art and an industry. There is 
drama and there is romance in his pages — drama 
as great as any placed on the screen; romance as 
appealing as any contained in a scenario. With 
that power and felicity of expression which have 



Vlll 



FOREWORD 



made him one of the foremost writers of the 
English speaking world, the author has set down 
the story of Carl Laemmle, without which the 
story of the birth and progress of the motion pic- 
ture industry would be incomplete. In so doing, 
Mr. Drink water has written a book which should 
delight the philosopher, inform the student and 
enthrall the reader who seeks further knowledge 
of the most romantic enterprise in modern times. 

Will H. Hays. 

March 12, 1931. 



CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

I. — Prelude 3 

II. — Laupheim and Ichenhausen . . .11 

III. — New York and Chicago .... 28 

IV. — Oshkosh, Wisconsin .... 48 
V. — The Films. Independence ... 65 

VI. — The Trust Fight 83 

VII. — Anti-Trust 102 

VIII. — Victory 117 

IX. — Imp 131 

X. — Toward Universal 153 

XI. — Universal City 170 

XII. — A Man and Motion Pictures . . .188 

XIII. — Character 206 

ix 



X CONTENTS 

CHAPTER PAGE 

XIV. — The "New Universal" .... 224 

XV. — Carle Laemmle Junior and the Future . 242 

XVI. — Character Again 261 

XVII. — In the Fullness of Time . . . 280 



ILLUSTRATIONS 

FACING 
PAGE 

Carl Laemmle .... Frontispiece 
The Birthplace of Carl Laemmle, Laupheim, 



wurttemberg 12 

Carl Laemmle's Father and Mother ... 20 

Theodore Regensteiner and Carl Laemmle 
About 1885 34 

An Anti-Trust Advertisement . . . .104 

Carl Laemmle and His Family at the Time of 
the Anti-Trust Campaign . . . .120 

An Early IMP Company 146 

Store Room, Universal City, 1916 . . . 182 

Actors' Waiting Room, Universal City, 1916 . 182 

Universal City Street Cleaners, 1916 . . 184 

Universal City Police, 1916 .... 184 

Charlie Chaplin and Carl Laemmle . . . 198 

Carl Laemmle and Mary Pickford . . . 198 

Woodrow Wilson and Carl Laemmle . .212 

xi 



Xii ILLUSTRATIONS 

FACING 
PAGE 

Andre Herriot and Carl Laemmle . . . 212 
Universal City, California, 1930 . . . 226 
Carl Laemmle and Jack Dempsey . . . 246 
Carl Laemmle and Erich Remarque . . . 246 

ROSABELLE LaEMMLE, CaRL LaEMMLE AND CARL 

Laemmle, Junior 24^ 

Carl Laemmle with Some Friends . . . 26C 
Carl Laemmle and Carol Laemmle Bergerman 286 



CARL LAEMMLE 



i 



THE 

LIFE AND ADVENTURES OF 

CARL LAEMMLE 



CHAPTER I 

PRELUDE 

Carl Laemmle is a remarkable man. At the 
age of sixty-four he is one of the most prominent 
figures in an industry that is, they tell us, the 
fourth largest in the world. There is nothing re- 
markable in that. Every industry must have its 
leaders, and they are often a mediocre, unimpres- 
sive lot. No one could call Laemmle's talents 
mediocre, but even so there are industrial leaders 
in any quantity who with first rate ability are not 
notable. They may direct affairs of astonishing 
magnitude, but it will never be said of them, 
"let us now praise famous men," for they are not 
famous, but notorious. They have achieved suc- 
cess, but no more. Success, on this large scale, may 
denote intelligence, power, tenacity, but it does 
not necessarily denote character; indeed, it often 



4 



CARL LAEMMLE 



denotes a conspicuous lack of it. Many millions 
have been made, and piously disbursed, by mean, 
cruel, and unscrupulous men — bad men, in fact; 
and character implies goodness. 

The minor psychologists of our time would 
have us believe that about goodness there is some- 
thing drab and unattractive. To which the answer 
is that if it is that, it isn't good. The idea is, pre- 
sumably, a survival in their minds of Victorian 
Sunday afternoons. But let us not be intimidated 
by amateurs of diabolism. If they find virtue dull, 
let them. For some of us the true tedium is in- 
duced by the crooks of international eminence who 
make fortunes, dominate gulls, and come to ends, 
complacent it may be, or apprehensive, but in any 
case unlamented. The richest man in the world 
may have a dry, featureless soul. He may engage 
none but market attention, and be of none but 
market significance. 

To manufacture, control, or distribute more 
motor cars, more oil, more chewing gum, more 
cocoa, more newspapers than anyone else is in 
itself a wholly unimpressive achievement. I have 
known a good many of these high-fliers, and while 
a few have been men of uncommon intelligence 
and decency, others have been uncommonly stu- 
pid, and in the matter of decency not worth butter 
to their bread. It is not a question of these great 
fortunes being ill-gained or, what is rarer, ill-pos- 
sessed. They have mostly been made in what 



PRELUDE 



5 



passes for fair competition, and if their making 
has left a trail of petty disasters, they are not al- 
together indefensible in terms of social economy. 
Once made, it must be allowed that they are spent 
often liberally enough. Indeed, it is difficult to see 
how it could be otherwise. To have millions on 
your hands is to be driven to some sort of enlight- 
enment. 

No; the true criterion has nothing to do with 
the foundation of institutes, the provision of model 
workshops, the endowment of churches, or the 
support of orchestras. Success means that you 
have succeeded against opposition, and by the use 
of agents. What, when you have come through, 
do the opposition and the agents think of you? 
That is the test. You may be excused the grievances 
of here and there a maladroit competitor or an 
unstable employee, but how, when the issue has 
been decided, do you stand in the general opinion 
of the other party and your own? There is a 
phrase of many connotations — a good fellow. In 
the best of these, do they think you are that? Not 
the good fellow of casual contacts in social ameni- 
ties or sport, but the fellow who in the long rou- 
tine of daily affairs has, exactly, been good. Who 
has, that is to say, been considerate of other 
people's dignity and of his own, has disdained to 
take mean advantage, and refused in any stress of 
circumstances to make the worse appear the better 
reason. 



6 



CARL LAEMMLE 



Such good fellows are, happily, plentiful. But 
most of them have not been tried by too searching 
an ordeal. The average career of moderate attain- 
ments imposes no very severe strain on a natural 
decency of spirit. Great success in great affairs is 
another matter. With it the strain intensifies, until 
a point is reached when character has to be rarely 
tough in fibre not to break. And more often than 
not, break it does. The acutest of all ethical ob- 
servers knew very well what he was saying when 
he spoke of rich men and the Kingdom of Heav- 
en. When the damage has been done, good opinion 
can be, and frequently is, bought, but the purchase 
does not bring regeneration. Cynicism about hu- 
man nature is shabby enough, but it is more ad- 
mirable than the sharp-nosed morality that dotes 
on petty inquisitions while disregarding those 
really awful prophecies about the needle's eye and 
being unspotted from the world. 

Carl Laemmle is a rich man, but how rich I have 
no idea. Nor do I know much about his private 
habits. He has been married but once, and hap- 
pily ; his widowhood is comforted by the devotion 
of two children, one of whom is taking over con- 
trol of his father's great Picture Corporation at 
a precocious age, while the other, Rosabelle 
Laemmle Bergerman, has at the moment when 
these lines are being written brought a grand- 
daughter into the family. Of other domestic dis- 
cretions or indiscretions that may have had a place 



PRELUDE 



7 



in Carl Laemmle's life I neither know nor wish 
to know anything. I understand that he plays 
poker for nickels or dollars with application and 
some skill, and that he has a palate for cham- 
pagne which, it is whispered, he is in a position to 
indulge. He is generous in his benefactions, and he 
collects autographs. Also he rather fancies himself 
as a fancier of prize if unprofitable poultry. His 
taste in the arts is unpretentious, but it is his own 
and not Sir Joseph Duveen's. He has a partiality 
for race-courses, and usually contrives to put a 
little on the loser. When he is travelling, his aver- 
sion to solitude at breakfast taxes the ingenuity 
of his secretaries, who have to provide a daily 
quota of guests at unseasonable hours. He is a 
Jew, not disciplinarian in practice, and he dresses 
with scrupulous care. Good American as he is, he 
prefers to buy his ties in London. 

Rich, then, but I should suppose not phenomen- 
ally so — by no means in the Rockefeller Ford class. 
And now, in his approaching age, a self-possessed 
gentleman of moderate and amiable tastes, proud 
of his success, and unspoilt by it. There is, it will 
be seen, nothing in all this to indicate him as 
remarkable. Such men are good company in the 
world, sound social assets, and fortunately they are 
to be found in their thousands. Nor does the 
distinction come of his having made his success in 
an industry that to-day attracts more popular at- 
tention than any other. This, let it be said at once, 



8 



CARL LAEMMLE 



is not a history of the Films. In telling this story, 
it will not be necessary to speculate on the future 
of the moving picture as an art, or even to ask what 
are its claims to be called an art at all. We have 
merely to accept it as a fact that on an unprece- 
dented scale conditions the world's entertainment. 
In the organisation of this fact Carl Laemmle has 
for a quarter of a century played an important, and 
in some respects a decisive part. But even so, it is 
not our purpose to determine the precise nature or 
scope of his influence. It seems clear that his effect 
upon the economics of the film industry has been 
a wholesome one, but the claim need not be ex- 
aggerated. He assumes no authority as a technical 
or artistic pioneer. He has in his time been re- 
sponsible for some very good pictures, and some 
not so good. He has consistently aimed at a high 
standard, but, like most of his colleagues, he has 
perhaps at times been uncertain what a high 
standard was. It is indicative of his natural stay- 
ing power that with advancing years his assess- 
ment of quality has become surer ; his latest films 
are his best. To the actual creative processes of the 
screen he has given no more than critical atten- 
tion; that is to say, he has directed no pictures 
himself. There is nothing to suggest that he had 
talents in that direction. 

And still we have not sighted our remarkable 
man. To have fought a dangerous and powerful 
trust almost single-handed, and thus to have re- 



PRELUDE 



9 



leased a growing industry from the stranglehold 
of monopoly, is an intrepid thing to have done; 
to have loosened up the conditions of employment 
and to have recognised from the first the proper 
status of the player, deserves well of the film-acting 
profession ; to have founded a great producing or- 
ganisation and to have kept it well in the fore- 
front of enterprise and achievement, is a highly 
satisfactory record on which to reflect. But gifts 
equal to such occasions are never far to seek. They 
command high salaries, but not our scrutiny. If 
they alone were Carl Laemmle's credentials, he 
might be worth so many million dollars, but he 
would not be worth writing about. 

And he is. The reason is simple, yet arresting. 
From obscure origins Carl Laemmle rose, with all 
the approved ritual of emigre romance, to a mod- 
est competence by attention to the sartorial needs 
of Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Then he drifted, for there 
was hardly more of design in it than that, into the 
motion picture business. For close on twenty-five 
years he has fought his way through a succession 
of crises in one of the most fiercely competitive of 
all industries. In doing this he has time after time 
had to stand toe to toe with his opponent in the 
middle of the ring and exchange blows meant to 
smash. As often as not he had not one opponent 
assailing him, but a dozen. Sometimes he won by a 
knockout, sometimes on points, but he nearly al- 
ways won. There have been occasions when the 



10 



CARL LAEMMLE 



whole film industry has waited in suspense on the 
issue of the conflict. Laemmle's fights have always 
been conducted in a fever heat of emotion and in a 
blaze of publicity. The scene of his struggles has 
been one of hot tempers and highly strung nerves. 
Ruthless ambitions have been frustrated, and des- 
perate greeds crossed by his determination. His 
career in all its successful circumstance has been 
one to provoke jealousy, fear, animosity. And at 
the age of sixty-four he has come through it with 
the high professional regard and the deep person- 
al affections of an entire industry. They call him 
Uncle Carl. That is the record of a remarkable 
man. 



CHAPTER II 



LAUPHEIM AND ICHENHAUSEN 

Carl Laemmle (German Lammle, pronounc- 
ed Lemly) was born on January 17th, 1867, at 
Laupheim in the South German kingdom of 
Wiirttemberg. He was the tenth of thirteen chil- 
dren, the son of Julius Baruch and Rebekka. His 
father was in a modest way of business as a coun- 
try estate agent, speculating thriftily in small par- 
cels of land. He was known in his little town as 
a man whose word in all things was valid security. 
His fellow-townsmen sought him out as arbiter in 
their quarrels. He was forty-seven years of age 
when Carl was born, and his wife Rebekka eleven 
years younger. They were poor. Once a year they 
allowed themselves an excursion to Ulm, sixteen 
miles away, to hear an opera. There sometimes 
they saw Wagner himself. 

Laupheim in the sixties was a town of some 
three thousand inhabitants. The Laemmle's house 
was of white plaster with red tiles and green shut- 
ters. On the ground floor was a central passage, 
on one side of which were two kitchens, one for 
use, one for the ornamental display of household 

11 



12 



CARL LAEMMLE 



china. On the other side were three rooms, the 
first being the family sitting- and dining-room, 
with one corner reserved for the mother's work- 
table, and an alcove curtained of? to accommodate 
an additional bed. Dark flowered wall-paper and 
patchwork rugs blended sombrely with the late 
Biediemeier furniture. On the walls were two 
severe family portraits, a clock with the dial set in 
the tower of a landscape in oils, and a case of but- 
terflies. A large stove occupied a considerable cor- 
ner of the space already unequal to its necessities. 
The room opened into another, the parental bed- 
room in which Carl and the other children were 
born. And again beyond that was the parlour, 
used only for ceremonial occasions. Upstairs were 
the children's bedrooms, some of which were let 
off when the elder boys went out into the world. 
A little strip of garden completed the premises. 

During Carl's childhood, eight of his twelve 
brothers and sisters died; there was a dreadful 
month of scarlet fever, which sent a procession of 
little coffins to the Jewish burial ground. Even for 
the depleted family it was tough going, but some- 
how adversity found it as difficult as usual to sub- 
due human fortitude. The Laemmles made the 
best of what they decided not to consider a bad 
job, and Carl grew up into his teens in a cheer- 
ful if straitened environment. He went to the 
school house in the same road as his own home, 
and later to an establishment further removed 



LAUPHEIM AND ICHENHAUSEN 13 



and known as the Latin School. There seem to be 
no records of untimely wisdom, but there is nebu- 
lous tradition that he was something of an athlete, 
indeed that "he seldom lost a race to boys in his 
own class." If this be the truth, it is highly credit- 
able to him; I suppose he must have been a very 
small boy, since he has never been anything but a 
very small Uncle Carl. 

The schooldays had diversions. There was bath- 
ing in a local brook, and on summer evenings 
there seems to have been an enthusiasm for cock- 
chafers in the neighbouring fir-plantations — a pur- 
suit the fascination of which, I confess, escapes 
me. He liked fishing, and the rings on a trout 
water still excite him. 

The Laemmle house yet stands as it was when 
Carl was born. Not quite as it was ; since its pres- 
ent owner, on his periodic visits to his native town 
from New York or California, delights to renew 
the memories but not the discomforts of his child- 
hood, and has furnished bath and bedrooms with 
the porcelain luxury that inspires the lyrical mood 
in house-agents. Otherwise the dwelling is as 
little changed as Laupheim itself. If you sit of an 
evening with your cognac in the bar of the Gast- 
haus zum Ochsen, you know that no hand in a 
hundred years has disturbed the low-ceilinged 
room, with its smooth, worn tables and benches, 
and the large square desk, like a dock behind a 
railed top. Here, too, still sit the Wiirttembergers 



14 



CARL LAEMMLE 



of a past century, slow, powerful men with dark 
wrinkled faces, a strange emphasis of bone in the 
contours. The talk is much what you would hear 
in a small country town in Gloucestershire or the 
Dakotas, crops and local politics, weather reports, 
births, marriages, and deaths. And there among 
them, but for some teasing impulse fifty years ago, 
might have been Carl Laemmle with his tall pot of 
Munich beer. Rounder in face than most of his 
fellows, and a good deal shorter in stature, but still 
a steady-going prudent Wurttemberger, with, per- 
haps, an unexpectedly twinkling eye. 

Indeed, the odds were at least level that this was 
what would happen to the boy who in the seventies 
seemed to come by his inches so very slowly. When 
he goes back to Laupheim now, and calls a free 
bill for the evening to the Ochsen company, he 
knows how easily the leisured gravity of Southern 
Germany might have been deaf to the call of a 
new world. Laupheim has hardly moved since he 
left it. He has helped to provide it with public 
baths, a gymnasium, an agreeable little park, and 
now when it is making one of its rare expansions 
into the surrounding fields it has marked its sense 
of obligation by calling one of the new streets Carl 
Lammle Strasse. We shall hear of larger muni- 
ficences than there, but Laemmle in his solicitude 
for the people of his origin must reflect sometimes 
on the turn of chance that might so well have kept 
him always among them. And then there would 



LAUPHEIM AND ICHENHAUSEN 15 



have been no monthly pension-roll, and no Carl 
Lammle Strasse. 

We find a reflection of the chance in his own 
family. When Carl decided on his American ad- 
venture, he had before him the example of an 
elder brother, Joseph, who had already gone off 
to try his luck. But there was another elder brother, 
Siegfried, who shared none of these disturbing 
inclinations. He took to travelling in wines 
through the towns of Southern Germany. After 
a time he found the calling uncongenial, but on his 
journeys he had acquired a habit of picking up an- 
tique odds and ends that took his fancy. He had, 
in fact, become something of a connoisseur, and 
left the wine business to open a shop in Munich 
as a dealer in those seductive wares that are miscel- 
laneously known as objets d'art. Over this he still 
presides, a very pattern of Wiirttemberg courtesy 
that declines to be stampeded by the importuni- 
ties of progress or startled by all the arcs of Holly- 
wood. So uninstructed is he, that he still finds 
living virtue in old water-colour drawings, and 
navigator's instruments, and samplers, and little 
saints carved in wood. He sells these things, but 
reluctantly. The best of them he hides away in 
secluded corners, and displays them to visitors 
only as a mark of considered esteem. If Siegfried 
Laemmle disappears into the darkness and returns 
with an unlikely looking soap-box, you may con- 
clude that he finds your taste not wholly negligi- 



i6 



CARL LAEMMLE 



ble. But usually of these finer pieces it seems that 
he has unhappily forgotten the price. 

His brother Carl, for whom he has undisguised 
admiration, once proposed that he should set up a 
store in New York on one of the more impressive 
avenues, offering to supply adequate resources. 
Siegfried was very sensible of the kindness, but 
feared that he would be unable to learn the lan- 
guage. Also, he did not think that New York would 
make him happy. Even in Munich there is a good 
deal more going on than is necessary. Siegfried 
Laemmle thinks that his brother Carl has done 
wonders, but he has never had the smallest wish to 
emulate them. Not long ago he and his family 
went as Carl's guests on a magnificent tour of the 
American continent, extending over several 
months. He took an immense number of photo- 
graphs, but otherwise made few advances towards 
intimacy with the great American people. He 
could not be induced to speak anything but his 
native German; on one occasion only so far for- 
getting himself, when he held a full house at 
poker, as to exclaim "Atta Boy ! " 

That is the sort of man that Siegfried is, and 
Carl might have been. There is in the elder broth- 
er, with his gentle culture and sensitive touch, a 
genuine simplicity of heart, inherited by Carl, 
too, from a soil that nourished the sweet and 
gracious arts of the peasant craftsmen of Southern 
Germany. It is the kind of quality that holds ten- 



LAUPHEIM AND ICHENHAUSEN 17 



aciously to the roots of a man's being, very hard to 
eradicate, and it has never ceased to inform the 
character of a man who for nearly fifty years has 
lived in conditions that meant constant danger. 
There is probably no variety of intrigue and graft 
and double-crossing that he has not been called 
upon to parry with as little warning as was given 
to the minute-men. And he has never in a crisis 
been betrayed into giving back dirt for dirt. 

Carl was sent to school when he was six years 
old, and stayed there until he was thirteen. His old 
associates, such as Benno Heumann, who to-day 
dispenses his benefactions in the town, are unable, 
with the most willing disposition, to remember 
anything notable about him. If he ran as strongly 
as report has it, he was none the less, it seems, a 
quiet, solicitous little boy, disliking games in 
which people might get hurt. He has been known 
to forbid the production of a rodeo scene in one 
of his pictures, not so much on account of his 
concern for the animals as for the cowboys, 
who doubtless thought him a meddlesome fellow 
for his pains. Similarly, he will travel a thousand 
miles to a race meeting on the flat, and refuses to 
look at a steeplechase. Though there may be no 
virtue in such susceptibilities, they are not unpleas- 
ing in a man who has been pretty thoroughly 
through the mill. Carl Laemmle's jaw can set 
firmly enough on more searching occasions. 

The Laupheim school years passed by with a 



i8 



CARL LAEMMLE 



not too irksome monotony of incident, though the 
modern child happily has no means of knowing 
what that monotony really was. Sometimes Carl 
would go on short business journeys with his fath- 
er, and watch the serious little transactions by the 
way. Julius Baruch was a shrewd enough salesman 
to carry with him a parcel of trinkets for his 
clients' children, and if there should be one over 
at the end of the day's round, Carl might be in 
luck. But such indulgences were rare. Now and 
again there would be a family expedition. One 
Saturday morning Synagogue opened at six 
o'clock so that everyone might be able to get to 
Ulm in time for the dedication of the great cathe- 
dral that had taken five hundred years to com- 
plete. 

On January 17th, 1880, Carl was thirteen, the 
age of Jewish manhood. Joseph was in America, 
and Siegfried already trading in his wines. There 
were also living one sister, Caroline, and Louis, the 
youngest brother. Reduced though the strain was 
on the family purse, the age of thirteen meant the 
necessity of looking for work. Rebekka Laemmle, 
devoted to children who adored her, had a shrewd 
sense of realities, shrewder, we may suspect than 
her husband, and it was she who took the matter 
of the young Carl's career in hand. She had a 
cousin who had married one Heilbronner, a butch- 
er of Ichenhausen, another small country town, 



LAUPHEIM AND ICHENHAUSEN 19 



forty miles away from Laupheim, over the Bava- 
rian border. Through her she had obtained an in- 
troduction to a firm of general dealers, founded 
ten years before by S. G. Heller, whose name it 
still bears. It was a thriving little rural business, 
doing a wholesale and retail trade, chiefly in 
stationery goods and "novelties." The original 
Heller was at this time handing over the business 
to his son Aaron, who still directs it at the age of 
seventy-eight. 

Carl was contracted to the Hellers as appren- 
tice and errand boy, a small premium being paid 
for three years' indentures. On April 26th, three 
months after his thirteenth birthday, he travelled 
with his mother by rail to Gunzberg, and thence 
by mail coach from Laupheim to Ichenhausen, the 
journey taking five hours. They were met by 
Heilbronner, and spent the first night at his house. 
The next day the boy was handed over to his 
employers, with agonised protests that he must 
return to Laupheim with his mother. Keeping a 
stiff upper lip, she made unregarded explanations 
as to the impossibility of this, and departed as 
acutely miserable as the very forlorn small boy, 
whom she left behind to throw himself inconsol- 
ably on to the bed in the little timber-partitioned 
room that was to be his lodging. 

He cried until he fell asleep exhausted. The 
next day he cried a great deal more, and refused to 



20 



CARL LAEMMLE 



eat anything. By the evening, however, he was 
extremely hungry, and allowed himself to be 
coaxed into thinking better of the situation. He 
found the Hellers kind, the food good, and within 
a week he had decided to do what credit he could 
to his job. 

He stayed with the Hellers between three and 
four years, rising to the position of book-keeper 
and office manager. Out of his first six months' 
wages he saved two pounds, which he sent home. 
On the balance he clothed and kept himself in 
pocket-money. His association with the family be- 
came one of intimate friendship, and now a new 
generation of Hellers think with pardonable zeal 
that their house gave his early training to a man 
without whom modern civilisation would have 
been a very different story. The homage is as 
charming as it is unreserved. Uncle Carl in Ichen- 
hausen to-day could probably have the moon if he 
asked for it. 

During Carl's apprenticeship, his master Aaron 
Heller married, and the first child was a daughter 
who later became Louis Laemmle's wife, and so 
Carl's sister-in-law. The boy's determination to 
serve his employers well quickly became a settled 
habit. He also took lessons from old Mr. Heller, 
who was a pensioned teacher, in arithmetic and 
grammar, picking up as well a little English. On 
his first holiday at home, after a year's absence, 
during which he had written twice weekly to his 



LAUPHEIM AND ICHENHAUSEN 21 



parents, by his mother's advice he brought with 
him a parcel of samples chosen from the Heller 
stock. With these she took him round the local 
shops and to other likely purchasers, and Carl 
returned to Ichenhausen with a proud little rec- 
ord of his first lesson in salesmanship. Aaron Hel- 
ler was enchanted, and Carl at fourteen began to 
be a personage in the business. He was advanced 
in responsibilities, and allowed to write letters for 
the firm — this sort of letter: 

4th May, 1881. 
To Herr Albert Behrend of Berlin, — 

An especially unlucky star must rule over the 
visiting cards for Jakob Bernheim which I ordered 
from you, since you have again misprinted them; 
as you will see from the enclosed specimen, Bern- 
heim appears as Bernstein. I am returning this 
faulty consignment to be used at your discretion, 
and shall be obliged if you will substitute 100 cards 
with the name correctly printed. 

Respectfully, 
S. G. Heller, 

per C. Lammle. 

And again: 

23rd May, 1881. 
To Frau Pauline Klein of Laupheim, — 

Politely replying to your favour, you ordered 
from my Mr. Lammle not 25 but 100 monograms, 
and it is my invariable custom not to supply goods 



22 



CARL LAEMMLE 



in excess of my orders. I regret, therefore, that I 
am unable to accept any returns, as I manufacture 
such goods only on commission and carry no stock 
of them. [In other words, pay up.] 

Respectfully, 
S. G. Heller, 

per C. Lammle, 

In January, 1882, we have: 

To L. Romhilah of Weimar, — 

Mr. Gopfroth, Keppelmeister of Laupheim, has 
given me your address, and I beg to enquire what 
are your lowest prices for No. 3 cottage pianos, 
carriage paid. 

Also, what reduction would there be on two 
pianos. I have in mind satisfactory service and de- 
livery at reasonable rates. If the instrument satisfies 
me, you may rely on further custom from this 
neighbourhood. 
An immediate reply will be appreciated. 

With all esteem, 
S. G. Heller, 

per C. Lammle. 

And finally, on a domestic note, in November, 
1882: 

To Eberle and Werner, of Ulm. 

After long delay I received our photographs 
yesterday. I regret to say that they do not please 
me. Those of myself are acceptable, but both the 
small and the large ones of my wife are displeasing. 



LAUPHEIM AND ICHENHAUSEN 23 



I therefore return them post paid, and my wife will 
call at her convenience for a further sitting. 
Respectfully, 

S. G. Heller, 

per Carl L'ammle. 

These were not dictated letters. "Carl," we can 
hear the instructions, "write to — , and say so and 
so." The results are not bad going for a lad not 
turned fifteen; there is efficiency and a spice of 
abrupt humour in them. They remind us of a 
London lawyer who, when he was leaving for 
golf, happened on the note of an unpaid debt. 
No one but the office boy being in, he told him to 
send a suitable reminder. On referring to the 
copy-book he found: 

Sir, — 

Unless your debt is paid by Thursday next, we 
shall take such steps as will amaze you. 

Yours truly — 

At the end of his three years' apprenticeship, in 
1883, Carl was free to seek work elsewhere if he 
chose. But at sixteen he realised that widi the 
Hellers he was learning sound and well-principled 
ways of business, and that there was no present 
haste about making a move. He liked the family 
and the confidence was returned. It was a friend- 
ly home, well kept, with wholesome and sufficient 
food. To be in the Heller household, moreover, 



24 



CARL LAEMMLE 



was to be on amiable terms with the town, and on 
Saturday afternoons there were visits to Hoch- 
wang for checkers and a glass, or possibly two 
glasses, of beer. In the summer of his seventeenth 
year he was sent by his employers for the first 
time on to the road, travelling for a week through 
Wurttemberg and opening up new territory for 
the firm. He did well, and the prospects of his 
advancement were good. It was perhaps not too 
rash to hope that with perseverance he would rise 
to a partnership with the Hellers, and to-day the 
name of Heller and Laemmle might have been a 
respected one in the stationery and "novelty" busi- 
ness at Ichenhausen and its neighbourhood. 

But in his mind were latent speculations of an- 
other sort. Joseph Laemmle's letters from Amer- 
ica gave a very good account of New York and 
Chicago, which seemed to be places of larger op- 
portunity than Laupheim and Ichenhausen. More- 
over one of the Heller family, Leo, had paid a 
visit home from the same country during Carl's 
apprenticeship, and he too was enthusiastic about 
the social and financial vistas of this El Dorado. 
Carl's impressionable spirit quickened as he heard 
these things, and a hope began to shape itself that 
one day perhaps he, too, might set off to come by 
his own in this new world. What the new world 
precisely was he had no idea — probably it was 
something rather larger than Ulm, with several 
firms in a bigger way of business than S. G. Hel- 



LAUPHEIM AND ICHENHAUSEN 25 



ler. In the meantime he had his apprenticeship to 
serve, and although he was bound by no formal 
articles he couldn't very well break his word to 
his family and employers to go through with it. 
Moreover, he was happy enough, and it was wise 
not to pay too much attention to these rumours of 
Flying Fame. They might be unsettling, and Carl 
was already quite level-headed in his control of 
himself. So they were tucked away into some 
corner of his mind for occasional contemplation. 

Then, when his three years were up, the pos- 
sibilities became active in his thought again. But 
a new difficulty arose. His mother, ambitious as 
she was for her children, thought that Carl was 
doing very well at Ichenhausen, and she had no 
mind for seeing another of her sons slipping out 
into a world altogether beyond her reach. She saw 
that Carl was restless, and she handled the situa- 
tion with characteristic firmness. She made him 
promise that so long as she was alive he would not 
leave his own country. His word again was given, 
and that, it seemed, was an end of the matter. His 
mother was then fifty-two years of age, and in the 
ordinary course of nature she would live until Carl 
was a settled man of business, past his youth. 
And so he once more put American fancies behind 
him, and turned to the fortunes of the house of 
Heller, glad that he was now sufficiently well 
thought of to be sent into the neighbouring towns 
as Our Special Representative. 



26 



CARL LAEMMLE 



And then suddenly, in September, there was an 
urgent call from Laupheim. He hurried home, to 
find his mother dangerously ill. On the 2nd of 
October it was necessary to operate, and on the 
next day she died. Carl has been able to carry 
with him through life the knowledge that no 
mother could have been more truly loved and re- 
spected by a son. Life had gone sternly with Re- 
bekka Laemmle, leaving her no margins. Always 
there had been more to do in the day than could 
reasonably be done, and always less than enough 
to do it with. Hers was the organising, devising 
brain of the family, and her best epitaph is that in 
the drag and strain of necessity she never for- 
feited her title to the devotion of her children. 

But her death meant a radical change in Carl's 
designs for the future. However lamentably, he 
was released now from his promise. His father was 
not likely to interfere with whatever plans he 
might choose to make. Julius Baruch, then sixty- 
three years old, was not of the same decisive in- 
clinations as his wife. Scrupulously upright, an 
accessible counsellor, and honouring his respon- 
sibilities, he was more philosophically disposed 
to let events do their own shaping. When, there- 
fore, he saw that Carl was again becoming pre- 
occupied by thoughts of America, no objection 
was made. 

The decision was not immediate. On his 
mother's death, Carl proposed to find work in 



LAUPHEIM AND ICHENHAUSEN 27 



Laupheim, in order to be with his father. He 
wrote his letter of resignation to Aaron Heller, 
who received it graciously, and intimated that if 
ever the young man should wish to come back to 
his career in Ichenhausen, he would be welcome. 
For three months Carl stayed in Laupheim, but 
his father, whose tranquillity was anything but 
dull-eyed, saw that the crisis had released aspira- 
tions that were not to be quieted. For the boy's 
seventeenth birthday he gave him a steerage ticket 
for the S.S. Nec\ar, sailing between Bremerhaven 
and New York. It cost ninety marks, or twenty- 
two dollars and fifty cents. As this sum was not 
available at the moment in the Laemmle home, it 
was borrowed. 



CHAPTER III 



NEW YORK AND CHICAGO 

On January 28th, 1884, Carl Laemmle, aged 
seventeen, left Laupheim station, accompanied 
by Leo Hirschfeld, an old schoolfellow also bound 
for America. They were seen off by their families, 
Siegfried Laemmle going with them on their way 
as far as Stuttgart. When borrowing the money 
for Carl's passage, Julius Baruch had further 
raised a draft for fifty dollars on the New York 
house of a German bank. Also Carl took with him 
an album, which he still possesses, suitably in- 
scribed by his relatives and friends. The Nec\ar 
sailed from Bremer haven on January 31st. Forty- 
five years later he received a telegram: 

Mayor James J. Walker of New York City cor- 
dially invites you to be a member of committee to 
meet S.S. Bremen on her initial trip Monday July 
twenty-second 1929. 

And in the same year the North German Lloyd 
Company invited him to sail from Europe with 
special courtesies on the fifty thousand ton suc- 

28 



NEW YORK AND CHICAGO 



2 9 



cessor of their three thousand ton Nec\ar in which 
he had made his first Atlantic voyage. 

If Carl had been desolated on leaving Laup- 
heim for Ichenhausen at thirteen, it was nothing 
to his present misery. Seventeen, after all, has not 
much more fortitude than thirteen, and Ichenhau- 
sen at worst had been only forty miles away from 
home. Now he was facing some unknown infinity 
of distance, and the golden prospects that he had 
framed in his fancy seemed strangely nebulous, 
hardly, indeed, to have any kind of reality. Cer- 
tainly, although still a boy, he had been through a 
hard tutelage, and knew something about looking 
after himself, but as he went into the emigrant 
room of the Nec\ar, resolution and resources alike 
dwindled into a pitful mockery. The room was 
dark, stifling, and occupied by a hundred other 
distraught and ill-found people. In the midst of his 
mental distress, Carl began at once to feel exceed- 
ingly unwell. 

He and Hirschfeld picked up with two other 
German boys from Bavaria, Julius Hilder and 
Julius Klugman. Between them, including Carl's 
New York credit, they had something less than 
two hundred dollars. They decided that the ac- 
commodation allotted to them was intolerable, 
and that some part of their capital must be em- 
ployed in getting it changed. One of the ship's 
petty officers was approached, and agreed to let 
them have his own cabin, with two upper and two 



30 



CARL LAEMMLE 



lower berths, for a consideration of thirty dollars 
between them. This absorbed an eighth part of 
Carl's fortune — an eighth, not a seventh, since in 
addition to his draft he had a few German marks 
and five American gold dollars which had been 
expressly left him by his mother. The necessity of 
parting with this precious little inheritance deep- 
ened his misery. Payment of his share of the cabin 
hire left him with but a mark or two in his pock- 
et, and it was an abominably dirty cabin 
at that. But at least they had escaped from the ef- 
fluvial congestion of their own compatriots with 
Slovaks, Poles and Russians. 

Carl and his friend Hirschfeld were prostrated 
in their berths before nightfall, and there they re- 
mained during the thirteen days of the voyage. 
Carl was even beyond answering his companion's 
frequent enquiries as to whether there was any 
hope that the ship might be swallowed up by a 
merciful sea. Hilder and Klugman enjoyed inter- 
vals of convalescence, to talk revoltingly of her- 
rings and potatoes. On February 13th, the ship was 
outside New York Harbour, where it was held up 
for twenty-four hours in a winter fog. When the 
fog cleared on the 14th, Klugman carried Carl up 
on to the deck to take his first view of Liberty seen 
through a chilling flurry of rain. El Dorado was 
an acutely discouraging spectacle. They w r ere 
landed by the immigrant boat at Castle Garden, 



NEW YORK AND CHICAGO 



31 



an earlier and doubtless a less agreeable Ellis Is- 
land. 

Their papers examined and approved, the four 
boys stepped, with no adequate enthusiasm, on to 
American soil. They had hardly enough English 
for a paragraph between them, and not more than 
fifty dollars apiece in their pockets. Hilder had a 
brother waiting for him, and Klugman a promised 
job in a furrier's at three dollars a week, which 
however he refused to take until they made it 
three fifty. Carl and Hirshfeld might as well have 
been stranded in the Arizona desert for any signs 
of succour that they could see. Hilder's brother 
took them to a boarding-house at the corner of 
Fifty-Ninth Street and Third Avenue, and there 
left them. 

In the edifying sequel, each of Carl Laemmle's 
three fellow-immigrants made a fortune. Hilder 
took to "notions" and fancy goods, founding the 
largest importing house in New York. Klugman 
proved that the three fifty was not above his value, 
and made his million or so out of furs. Hirshfeld 
made his in candies, inventing a pink powder 
which by the agency of hot water may be trans- 
muted into strawberry jelly. 

Carl would have been very well content if on 
arriving in New York he could have been told that 
he too would one day achieve some such wealth no 
more remarkably. Like countless settlers in the 



32 



CARL LAEMMLE 



new world, his inducement was not fame but 
fortune. Working cheerfully enough in the little 
Ichenhausen store, he perceived none the less that 
there one was always likely to be driven hard to 
make a satisfactory living. In America, he sup- 
posed, it would be easier and the living more sub- 
stantial — that was all. Now in New York, he 
clung to the hope that the dream would be real- 
ised, but the dream was no more romantic than 
that. He would take any kind of job that turned 
up, and be ready to take any other if it offered a 
few cents more on the way. For two or three weeks 
it seemed that there was a serious chance of miss- 
ing realisation altogether. He answered advertise- 
ments, always to find that fifty other people had 
done the same thing. He was making alarming 
inroads on his reserve of funds. And then he was 
engaged by the keeper of a drug-store on the east 
side of Thirty-Eighth Street at four dollars a week. 
He swept the floor, washed bottles, and ran er- 
rands. But he didn't like the smells, and he didn't 
like his master, who dedicated one day a week to 
violent intoxication. He kept his eyes open for 
another place. 

He got up every morning at four o'clock, in 
order that he might be downtown in time to get an 
early copy of the New Yor\ Staatszeitung as it 
came on to the streets. His interest was in its ad- 
vertisement columns. Then one day he conceived 
the idea of writing to the editor of the Letter 



NEW YORK AND CHICAGO 33 

Box or Briefkarten. For some years his family 
had lost touch with Joseph Laemmle, but every 
six months or so they received a copy of the Illi- 
nois Staatszeitung, which, although it was ac- 
companied by no letter, they supposed to come 
from him. Could the editor by any chance help 
Mr. Carl Laemmle to ascertain the whereabouts 
of Mr. Joseph Laemmle, believed to be in Chi- 
cago? The editor in his reply column advised his 
correspondent to apply direct to the editor of the 
Illinois journal. Carl wrote, and the letter was 
brought to the notice of Washington Hesing, Vice- 
President of the paper, who was known for his 
strong German sympathies. He asked his secre- 
tary if he recognized the writing. The secretary, 
engaged on other matters, did not. He was in- 
structed to read the letter. The secretary was 
Joseph Laemmle. That night a note left Chicago 
containing a ticket from New York and a ten 
dollar bill. 

The first lesson that Carl learnt in Chicago 
was that in the new world there were no back 
stair approaches to success. His brother might be 
right-hand man to a Vice-President of the fourth 
estate, but the best he could do for him was to 
get him work in the Boston store as packer and 
inside errand boy, at his New York wage, four 
dollars a week. On the forty-hour journey from 
New York, Carl had renewed an intensive study 
of a German-English dictionary, feeling the neces- 



34 



CARL LAEMMLE 



sity of enlarging his equipment for the notable ad- 
vancement that doubtless awaited him in Chicago. 
Now it was midsummer, infernally hot, and the 
odour of paste and brown paper was hardly less 
offensive than that of New York boluses on the 
East Side. And still it was four dollars a week, 
apparently the staple wage in El Dorado. Clearly 
it was time that something was done about it. He 
applied for naturalisation papers — for which he 
had to wait five years; and in his brother's office 
he was introduced to Theodore Regensteiner. 

Regensteiner is still alive, and the head of I 
know not how vast a printing establishment in 
Chicago, where they do three or it may be six 
colour processes to perfection. That may not be 
impressive, but Regensteiner, with whom I drank 
excellent Rhine wine in Munich, is. He is a man 
who has come through steerage to saloon with 
all his humours tempered, and sound to the core. 
He was a boy with Carl Laemmle in those early 
Chicago days. 

They lodged together, and were earning less 
than ten dollars a week between them. Eight 
were paid for board and lodging. There was an 
arrangement by which their meals were separately 
provided, and when Carl had no appetite at the 
moment for a favourite dish, he reserved it in 
the cupboard with a note on it, "This is mine," 
for Regensteiner's information. A considerate 
landlady made no extra charge for laundry, but a 




THEODORE REGENSTEINER AND CARL LAEMMLE 
ABOUT 1885 



; ! 



NEW YORK AND CHICAGO 



35 



margin of two dollars gave no scope to the natu- 
ral tastes of two grown lads, and earnestly they 
considered the question of auxiliary means. Carl 
had a small residue of his original fifty dollars, 
and he contrived to borrow another fifty from a 
German acquaintance on Laupheim security. 
Thus capitalised, the partnership proposed to go 
into the newspaper business. Severe domestic 
economy was practised. Winter and summer they 
walked to their work, to save car fares; they 
shared the same room and bed ; and they allowed 
themselves one weekly indulgence only. On Sun- 
day evenings they visited the German theatre, 
queuing up at an early hour in order to get front 
gallery seats at twenty-five cents apiece. Here 
they saw an exciting range of German and trans- 
lated classics, which furnished liberal themes for 
debate in the few waking minutes that they could 
be together during the week. After the theatre 
they went on to a saloon, where for ten cents each 
they could take a glass of beer, and be free of a 
snack table, at which customers were understood 
to behave with moderation. This condition they 
disregarded, and so came by one square meal a 
week. 

Their passion — it was no less — for the drama 
was consummated when in 1886 Booth and Bar- 
rett visited Chicago in a Shakesperean repertory. 
They were engaged to appear as supers in Julius 
Ccesar at fifty cents a show. The great Romans, 



36 



CARL LAEMMLE 



we are told, were little men, and Carl had that 
qualification at least for the spear and toga. Eco- 
nomically, however, their success was equivocal, 
as they bought tickets for a number of young 
ladies who desired to see them act. On the topic 
of these young ladies, I may add, I found Regen- 
steiner uncommunicative. 

But for the newspaper enterprise. Regensteiner 
was working as draughtsman to a machinery 
company, and was full of inventive ideas. Under 
his direction a small cart was devised, capable of 
carrying a two hundred pound load. On Sunday 
mornings at four o'clock they made a round of 
the newspaper offices, and collected bundles of 
the Chicago Tribune, Inter-Ocean, Herald and 
Westen, which they dragged to the station. There 
the cart was slickly dismantled and tied up with 
the rope that had hauled it. Long before break- 
fast hour they were on their rounds, the cart re- 
assembled, through Kensington, Riverdale, Dal- 
ton and other outlying townships. Not until five 
o'clock in the afternoon was the last order de- 
livered, and then a bolt back to Chicago to be in 
time for Faust or William Tell. When winter 
from the lakes made the roads impassable for 
wheels, they used a sled, also of Regensteiner's 
build. In this way they doubled their weekly 
earnings, which meant not only solvency, but 
relative affluence. Later on, when they had ad- 
vanced as wage-earners, they sold the well-estab- 



NEW YORK AND CHICAGO 



37 



lished cart route to Carl's younger brother Louis, 
who had followed him from Laupheim. 

But even with so handsome a supplement, in- 
come was not yet mounting on an impressive 
scale. For a good many years to come there was 
to be a steady increase, but no more than that. It 
was, in fact, not until 1906 that there was any 
prospect that Carl Laemmle would ever do more 
than make an ample competence in obscurity. In 
the meantime, his life, if not of national note, was 
active enough in adventure. There was nothing 
much in the way of romance about it; merely the 
inviolable faith of healthy youth that presently 
something considerable would happen. 

Carl bettered his English, and after three suf- 
focating months at the Boston store, he got a 
job with one Platskey, a silk agent. Prospects 
here seemed brighter, but on his third Monday 
morning he was told without warning that his 
place was to be taken by Platskey's nephew, and 
he was dismissed on the spot. This was serious, 
and for a time he was near to being derelict on 
the streets of Chicago, relieved only by an indul- 
gent landlady and an odd dollar or two borrowed 
from Joseph. Then he found another place as 
office boy, this time at five dollars a week, with 
Meyer, Strauss, Goodman and Co., clothiers. In 
later years as a film magnate he gave a younger 
generation of the Meyers control of all his legal 
affairs in Chicago, but at the same time he was not 



38 



CARL LAEMMLE 



greatly impressed by the clothing business. He re- 
mained in it nine months, until July 1885. He had 
then been in America a year and a half, and his 
career to date had been far from encouraging. He 
had risen but one dollar a week, and although he 
was turned eighteen, he appeared to be destined 
for no more exalted a calling than that of errand 
boy. Decidedly, he had been better of! in Ichen- 
hausen. Even a mysterious "Batchelor's Button" 
which he had patented with Regensteiner was fail- 
ing to attract the public. The newspaper business, 
while it made Sunday the most profitable day of 
the week, offered no opportunity for development. 
Regensteiner was finding the conquest of the 
world no easier. Together they decided on a 
change of occupation. 

A sweltering July day in 1885 found them in a 
day-coach bound for South Dakota. Carl had 
heard from a Laupheimer connection who had 
settled there that it was a grand country for farm- 
ing, and he had induced Regensteiner to join him 
in this new enterprise. Their train drew in to 
Mitchell station at four o'clock in the morning. 
They were to be met at seven, until which hour 
they slept on the station bench. Their friends 
arrived, to inform them that their first destination 
was to attend the funeral of a man — a Laemmle 
cousin — who had been struck by lightning. They 
repaired to a barn, where the body was placed in 
a hay-wagon, and taken to the cemetery, which 



NEW YORK AND CHICAGO 



39 



contained but one other grave. After this melan- 
choly prelude, they proceeded on a ten hour ride 
to Yankton, in a cart that had no seats and was 
already overloaded by a harvesting machine. The 
sun would have been 120 in the shade, of which, 
however, there was none. The young men were 
distressingly clad, in thick cloth suits, stiff shirts 
and collars, narrow-brimmed sailor hats, and 
shoes of fashionable tightness. Much discom- 
moded by the anatomy of the harvester, they made 
a dejected advance through the burning Dakota 
plains, Regensteiner at intervals consulting a 
Prayer Book which he carried in his pocket. Their 
refreshment consisted of two oranges apiece. 
Their unprotected faces bore marks of the jour- 
ney for weeks to come. 

They learnt to their mortification that they 
were not to be employed on the same farm, but 
were to be separated by a distance of four miles. 
Carl's master was an Irishman eighty years of 
age, farming land twenty miles from Yankton. 
The new hand's duties began at four in the morn- 
ing, when he helped in milking a herd of twenty 
cows. On wet mornings certain preliminaries 
were dispensed with, and he was able to stay in 
bed until six; always before opening his eyes he 
offered up a short prayer that it might be raining 
good and hard. 

He borrowed suitable clothes, including an al- 
luring sombrero, and tried hard to look and be- 



4 o 



CARL LAEMMLE 



have like a farmer. But he found that he had 
few talents for the land, and, fit as he was, manual 
labour with iron pails and pitchforks in heat that 
bit through you was worse than running errands 
in Chicago. Moreover, there were other difficul- 
ties. Carl had been brought up in an orthodox 
Jewish home, and Yankton dietary depended 
largely on a staple of pork and ham. The friendly 
old Irishman was sympathetic, and Carl was al- 
lowed ample rations of chicken and eggs. Also, 
at his own request, he was excused attendance on 
the pig styes. But such distinctions did not foster 
the amenities of pioneer farming, and Carl soon 
ceased to cherish any ambition in the direction 
of teeming acres. On the whole, he would as soon 
be a sailor. And what had he come to this country 
for anyway ? There was a great deal to be said for 
Wiirttemberg. When he was not lifting things 
about, he had ample time for such reflections, rid- 
ing an enigmatical pony as he watched the grazing 
cattle, without the smallest idea as to what he 
was expected to do about it. 

On Sundays he met Regensteiner. They had 
taken the precaution of providing themselves with 
return tickets, and at the end of the first week, 
Regensteiner was for using them by the next 
available train. Carl felt just that way himself, 
but would not admit it. He already had a sense of 
humour, and when he looked at the real cowboys 
who seemed to enjoy this sort of diing and were 



NEW YORK AND CHICAGO 



41 



good at it, he knew that he and his friend were 
alien and rather ridiculous figures. But he was not 
going to be scared away by a week's disillusion- 
ment. He persuaded Regensteiner to give the ex- 
periment a fair trial. For seven weeks they clung 
on. Then Carl capitulated and, having set his 
hand to the plough, turned back to Chicago. He 
took with him seven dollars and fifty cents for 
his seven weeks' work. 

The population of Chicago at this time was 
something above the half million mark, a figure 
to-day approaching three and a half. When Carl 
returned to the city at the end of August, 1885, 
deeply tanned and still wearing his sombrero, 
with which he somehow made a more dashing 
effect on the Michigan boulevard than in the 
Dakota cattleyards, his mind was fixed that some- 
thing better than errand-running must be under- 
taken, and at once. In the columns of the Tribune 
he read that Messrs. Butler Bros., an enterprising 
young firm of general merchants, needed an entry 
clerk. He did not know what that meant, but he 
decided to attempt by bluff what had been denied 
to modest industry. He applied for the post, and 
on being asked by the employment manager 
whether he understood the duties involved, re- 
plied that he most certainly did. Which was by no 
means true, but he got the post, at six dollars a 
week. Then began an exercise of wits. He had to 
improvise the knowledge that he lacked, and in 



4 2 



CARL LAEMMLE 



this was dependent wholly on the good will of 
his fellow employees. Fortunately they took to 
him ; word went round that this was a game kid 
who was up against it and deserved a chance. He 
got it. Making his entries of articles with names 
that he could not spell as they were called out to 
him by the dozen or gross, a friendly invoice clerk 
stationed himself within prompting distance. 

Carl realised that he could not hope for much 
perseverance in these favours, and determined 
that he would never have to be told any word 
twice. With a concentrated effort, he had mastered 
the stock nomenclature within a week. Within 
six he had made himself an entry clerk to whom 
all mysteries were open, and then to his astonish- 
ment he was informed that his weekly salary — it 
was a wage no longer — was to be raised from six 
to seven dollars. The news so excited him that he 
ran incontinently out of the store to tell his 
brother, three streets away. Now, surely, he felt, 
a career had begun. Six months later, he was still 
further uplifted when the seven dollars became 
eight. 

With what seemed to be a hold on success at 
last, he did a rash thing. He had been in America 
over two years, and he was seized by a desire to 
see his home again. He had managed to save 
enough money for a return steerage passage, and 
he approached Edward Butler, not to give notice, 
but to see whether he could get leave of absence. 



NEW YORK AND CHICAGO 



43 



Butler, a little startled, told him that if he went, 
and came to him again later in the year he would 
undertake to find him work. In the early summer 
of 1886 Carl returned to Laupheim with his 
brother Joseph, who had not been home for fif- 
teen years. Carl was away for five months, reach- 
ing Chicago again at two o'clock of a November 
morning with precisely one nickel in his pocket. 
But his old room with Regensteiner was ready 
for him, and on the next day he called to remind 
Butler of his promise. 

Having found a policy of daring to be effective 
with that gentleman, he now proposed that he 
should be re-engaged not as junior but as senior 
entry clerk. Asked if he knew the principles of 
book-keeping, he replied that book-keeping was 
his middle name. The answer went well, and he 
was taken on, this time at nine dollars a week. 
And again four months later, Butler made it ten. 

In the spring of 1887 he left Butler to join Leo 
Heller, of L. Heller and Co., the brother of his 
old Ichenhausen master, as book-keeper. He re- 
ceived no advance in salary, but was attracted by 
the personal association, and the step in clerical 
status. He commenced as accountant by striking 
his first balance wrongly, and taking three months 
to spot the discrepancy. Heller was in the whole- 
sale jewellery business, and Carl stayed with him 
until 1889, in which year he received his natural- 
isation papers and made a second journey to Laup- 



44 



CARL LAEMMLE 



heim. On his return he did not rejoin Heller, but 
went as assistant book-keeper to the Mandel 
Brothers' Store, again at ten dollars a week. After 
eighteen months he moved on, still book-keeping, 
to Nelson Morris and Co.'s stock yards, with two 
dollars increase. But he was unable to stand the 
stench and screams of the slaughtered animals, 
and left in 1890 to enter the firm of Otto Young 
and Co., wholesale jewellers, as bill clerk. Here 
he started at fifteen dollars a week, and in four 
years rose to be charges clerk and book-keeper at 
eighteen. He was then, in 1894, twenty-seven 
years of age, and had been ten years in the United 
States. With eighteen dollars a week, and with 
what was but a very moderately skilled position 
at an office desk, he could hardly be said to have 
shown a clean pair of heels to old Wiirttemberg. 
But he was now an American citizen, and still not 
too old to suppose that something or anything 
might happen yet. That he had any conception 
of what it might be, there is nothing to suggest. 

The struggle hitherto had been a tough and 
unpropitious one. Not until towards the end of 
his first Chicago decade was he in receipt of much 
more than a bare living wage, though thrift and 
simple tastes had enabled him to put a little aside. 
His friendship with Regensteiner was, perhaps, 
his most solid social asset in those days. They 
continued their newspaper and other little enter- 
prises together, and their considerate conduct in 



NEW YORK AND CHICAGO 



45 



the Aschenheim and Weinberg families, where 
they lodged, gave them both an assurance of 
refuge in adversity. Carl, at least, never knew 
from day to day when it might be needed. It was 
a time of immensely rapid expansion in the mid- 
dle-west, but it was also a time of economic in- 
stability, when although nothing could stop the 
growth of the great cities, few individual citizens 
could be securely counted on to stay the pace 
from one stock-taking to another. Occupation 
such as Carl was able to obtain was, in fact, hardly 
better than casual labour, and a worker had 
reason to count himself fortunate if he could 
keep one position for a twelve-month. Confident 
that whatever happened he would not be turned 
out of board and lodging meant a good deal for 
Carl's peace of mind during those precarious 
years. These generosities are not forgotten. 

With Regensteiner, too, he educated himself 
towards those humanities for which he had a 
natural instinct that had of necessity been but 
little cultivated. He was mostly too busy acquiring 
a practical mastery of English to pay much at- 
tention to literature. He acquired in time an easy 
idiomatic control of his adopted language, which 
he speaks to-day with a graphic fluency that has, 
attractively enough, retained traces of his native 
accent. Being of German origin, and Southern 
German at that, his taste for, and in, music needs 
no indicating. If seats were to be had for the 



4 6 



CARL LAEMMLE 



available dimes, he and Regensteiner were always 
eager for a concert or an opera. Of their partiality 
for the playhouse we have heard, and they were 
even known on occasion to perform one-act plays 
themselves with their friends. The records of these 
doubtless enthusiastic if inexpert productions have 
not been preserved. And then there was Dr. 
Emil Hirsch, a Rabbi who delivered lectures of a 
liberal philosophic bent, just the sort of thing to 
germinate in a boy's active and hungry mind. At 
the age of twenty-seven, Carl had patiently con- 
structed something of a background for a wealth 
of rough and ready experience, and he seemed to 
be as far from any kind of distinction as he had 
been when he lay forlornly in his Nec\ar berth 
ten years before. 

And yet another twelve years were to pass 
without any more auspicious signs. In 1894 Carl 
moved from Chicago to Oshkosh. At Mandel's 
establishment one of his colleagues had been Wil- 
liam Friedman, who had left to become "finan- 
cial executive" to the Continental Clothing Com- 
pany. Through him Carl was now offered a 
book-keeper's job in the Oshkosh branch of that 
firm. There was no immediate financial induce- 
ment — in fact the salary was to be less than his 
present earning. But Carl argued that people 
needed more clothes than jewellery, and that if 
he could secure a position of importance in such 
a house he might be able to get into contact with 



NEW YORK AND CHICAGO 



47 



the greater public from which he vaguely hoped 
still for some enriching gesture. It was merely an 
instinct, but he followed it. He was bidden God- 
speed at the station only by his brothers, Joseph, 
who had brought a wife back from Laupheim in 
1887, and Louis, who had arrived in Chicago to 
follow the euphonious calling of a cake-baker. In 
the meantime, his father had died, in 1892, at the 
age of seventy-two. Carl had then made his third 
return from the States to Laupheim, to assist in 
putting the family affairs in order. Now, in 1894, 
as he left Chicago, the Wiirttemberg days were 
beginning to fade into the distance, not of his 
memory and affection, but of his experience. 



CHAPTER IV 



OSHKOSH, WISCONSIN 

I said that twelve years were to pass without 
indication of any conspicuous achievement. The 
assertion ought, perhaps, to be modified. At the 
end of that time Carl was still a small provincial 
tradesman, but in his own business he had made 
a mark, and he had trained his mind to methods 
that were later to be put to much more widely 
effective, and, indeed, notable uses. 

The population of New York in the middle 
nineties was approximately two millions, that of 
Chicago a million. To nebulously constructive 
ideas about one knew not what in particular these 
vast centres of heterogeneous industry were coldly 
inaccessible. Barely to keep alive in them was as 
much as a young man with a rudimentary educa- 
tion and no special training could hope to do. 
Vague intimations of some unspecified powers 
were rudely kept in check by the insistent routine 
of earning a few necessary weekly dollars. The be- 
lief that it is easy to get on in the cyclonic rise of 
great cities, is entirely superstitious; on the other 
hand, it is desperately easy to go under. It was, 

4 8 



OSHKOSH, WISCONSIN 



49 



unquestionably, fortunate for Carl that before his 
vigour and enterprise had been impaired he left 
the vortex of Chicago for a small community of 
twenty-five thousand people. He was there to 
have some chance of letting his invention find 
itself. 

Oshkosh, named after a Menominee Indian 
chief, is in the eastern part of Wisconsin State, on 
the west shore of Lake Winnebago, rather less 
than two hundred miles due north of Chicago. In 
the thirty-seven years since Carl Laemmle first 
went there, its population has nearly doubled. The 
centre of a luxurious lumber district, its pros- 
perity has been built up largely in the wood- 
working trades, and when Laemmle — we may 
now discard the familiarities of boyhood — arrived 
there to sell clothing, his customers were mostly 
people supplying the lumber-men, or the lumber- 
men themselves. Cheap hard-wearing articles were 
demanded. The price of a man's suit ranged 
from nine dollars and ninety-eight cents — equivo- 
cative of eleven-pence-three-farthings — to eighteen 
dollars. The principal market was for the nine- 
ninety-eights, and the problem was how to sell 
these in the largest possible quantities. 

It soon became Laemmle's personal problem. 
The head of the business, resident in Chicago, was 
Sam Stern. His name was not inapt. He had no 
democratic or pioneer delusions about the proper 
distance to be kept between master and men, and 



50 



CARL LAEMMLE 



once when visiting Oshkosh he was none too well 
pleased at having, owing to a shortage of rooms, 
to sleep with Laemmle overnight. But the neces- 
sary civilities of the occasion confirmed in his mind 
a growing impression that his young employee 
was rather a smart fellow. He so far unbent as 
to invite him to his home in Chicago, and, what 
was more to the purpose, he made him manager 
of his Oshkosh branch. This appointment was 
not confirmed until 1898, but in the meantime 
Laemmle had taken considerably more than a 
book-keeper's part in the direction of the store. 

A chronological record of his Oshkosh years is 
not necessary. We need only to observe the de- 
velopment in his mind of certain ideas that were 
to govern his later career. He had to deal, pre- 
cisely, with a tough lot of customers, and his first 
determination was that they should be well served. 
He was never sure but what one of them might 
be not only tough but crooked. A device much 
favoured by the wrong 'uns was to purchase a 
cheap article for the purpose of getting change 
on a bad cheque. To tell a lumber-jack that you 
suspected his cheque of being bad was a delicate 
undertaking. Sometimes the purchase was not so 
small. On one occasion a casual caller spent three 
hours in selecting a sixty dollar overcoat. His 
cheque was taken to Laemmle, who didn't like 
the look of it. The salesman, excited by the mag- 
nitude of the deal, insisted that only a man of 



OSHKOSH, WISCONSIN 



51 



substance would spend three hours on a coat. The 
customer was leaving the town, and unless the 
cheque were accepted the sale would be lost. The 
salesman insisted, took responsibility on himself, 
and the cheque was fraudulent. 

These risks, however, were occasional, and there 
was a steady volume of sound profitable trade to 
be done with men who were straight and stood on 
no ceremony. To give them rather better than 
good value for money was the first condition of 
success, and Laemmle had no scruples about mak- 
ing himself a nuisance if any supplies came in 
from headquarters below standard. If you bought 
a suit from the Continental, he saw to it that 
you could not get as good a one at the same price 
from any of his competitors. But quality was 
only half the battle. To sell a few good things at 
a small profit took you nowhere; the question 
was how to sell, and go on selling, a great many 
of them. And in his Oshkosh store Laemmle 
ruminated on the nature and the scope of that 
hair-raising word, publicity. He contemplated 
them to such effect that in after years, in a great 
industrial crisis, he was to prove himself so 
thoroughly their master that a knowledgeable en- 
thusiast declared him to be "the greatest advertis- 
ing genius since Barnum." 

It is not necessary to dwell on the inane and 
strident horrors committed in publicity's name. 
It is an uncongenial theme. When we have seen 



52 



CARL LAEMMLE 



through and deplored the shams and vulgarities, 
the fact remains that advertising is the sap that 
quickens every vein of modern industrial life. It 
is, apparently, inseparable from reckless waste, 
gross quackery, and shameless exploitations, but 
in our scheme of things it is indispensable. 
Whether or not the scheme is a wholesome one 
is beside the point. 

Laemmle, in any case, had no such misgivings. 
Competitive commerce for him was not a specu- 
lative theme, but a hard reality. A resolve that the 
competition should be fair did not mean that it 
would be urbane. Again we are on debatable 
ground. What exactly is fair competition in trade? 
I should suppose it to be making a more attractive 
offer than your rival and letting it be more widely 
known. It does not allow you to misrepresent his 
wares or his methods, and it does not allow you 
to manipulate the public or semi-public services 
against him. If you attempt to impose an inferior 
bargain on the public you will almost certainly be 
found out, and lose your custom; if you offer a 
superior bargain at the expense of your rival's 
deserts or by means of furtive intrigue against his 
interests, you ought in any decent ordering of so- 
ciety to be put out of business. But granted the 
good bargain and the clean methods, competi- 
tion remains a condition of your enterprise. Giv- 
ing your rival a square deal, you have still if 
possible to give him a beating. Even so mod- 



OSHKOSH, WISCONSIN 



53 



erately stated, the position is hardly conducive to 
the finer altruisms. 

Having made up his mind on the matter of 
quality, Laemmle in approaching the problem of 
selling in quantity began to realise certain essen- 
tials. Refinements of appeal, however appropriate 
they might be in marketing Tiffany diamonds or 
choice limited editions, were of remote concern to 
his purposes. He hacl cheap merchandise to sell to 
the average man, to millions of average men if 
they would buy, and his policy was to announce 
the fact as often and as loudly as possible. He had 
no fancy for secret advertising, and he realised 
that the advertisement which cost two hundred 
dollars last week was not worth two cents this 
unless there was a follow through. Quite crude 
perceptions, but fundamental. They began to take 
shape in the first months at the Oshkosh clothing 
store, and they resulted in the building and or- 
ganisation of Universal City. 

He started his campaign systematically, and 
conducted it with vigour and insight. He pro- 
duced a revolutionary catalogue, showered it upon 
the Wisconsin counties, and reaped the rewards 
of a rapidly growing mail-business. 

At the season of Thanksgiving, the Conti- 
nental, that is Laemmle, gave a turkey to every 
purchaser of fifteen dollars worth of goods. One 
year a competitor announced that he would pre- 
sent a turkey with every twelve dollars worth. 



54 



CARL LAEMMLE 



Laemmle came back with a turkey for ten dollars 
outlay. The rival countered with eight, and finally 
the Continental took the town at two fifty. 
Laemmle that week reported no profits to Stern 
at Chicago, but the rival learnt not to go inter- 
fering about turkeys for the future. 

To have become adept in this kind of ingenuity 
may seem to be a small showing for twelve years. 
In fact it was the well-laid approach to fame and 
fortune. The impresarios of the entertainment 
world often flatter themselves that they have their 
fingers on what they call the pulse of public taste. 
The conceit has cost them an infinite loss of 
pence, and, when they have had it, of self respect. 
No man has ever done anything worth doing in 
the show business by setting himself to give the 
public what he supposed it to want; many have 
made some reputation and money by giving it 
something in which, according to their taste what- 
ever it might be, they themselves believed. Carl 
Laemmle in later years was to learn that this idea 
that you could follow the public lead was, in the 
designation that Mr. Henry Ford is said to have 
applied to history, bunk. The impresario can, 
however, even with undistinguished tastes, mould 
the public to his own will if he has the courage 
of his opinions and wits to advance them. 
Laemmle had the courage and the wits. It hap- 
pened that from some unspoilt South German 
ancestry he had inherited a native sense of fitness, 



OSHKOSH, WISCONSIN 55 

so that when he became a controlling power in the 
entertainment world he instinctively preferred 
the genuine to the spurious. While employed by 
the Continental Clothing Company he rose from 
the obscurity of provincial book-keeping to the 
imperceptibly greater eminence of managership 
with a commission on profits. Also he learnt, not 
how to ascertain what the public wanted, but 
how to impress upon the public what he wanted 
it to want. 

An Oshkosh friend of those days, Mr. Frank 
Stein recalls the care devoted always by Laemmle 
to making the store attractive. For any special 
occasion, appropriate window displays had to be 
devised. A musical festival meant busts of great 
composers suitably grouped in a setting of golden 
lyres. For Spring or Fall anniversaries there must 
be seasonable landscapes, the town being taken 
in admiration when "at one opening Fall the 
price cards were all cut to represent maple leaves 
and each one a different form and coloured by 
hand in autumn shades. I think they were the 
first of the kind in the country." There is some- 
thing ambrosial still about those maple-leaves. 

Laemmle's visit to Sam Stern in Chicago in the 
surprising role of social guest resulted, as we have 
seen, in commercial promotion at Oshkosh. But 
it had another consequence. Stern had a niece, 
Recha, who was staying in the house at the same 
time, recently arrived from Flieden in Germany. 



56 



CARL LAEMMLE 



Laemmle and she fell in love; they agreed to 
write to each other. In 1898, the year in which he 
became not only virtual but acknowledged man- 
ager of the Oshkosh store, they were married. 
These things are inscrutably a matter of luck; a 
circumstance of which church encyclicals are un- 
aware to a gravely culpable degree. The luck of 
Carl Laemmle and Recha Stern held without a 
lapse for twenty-one years, when it was broken 
by the death of a beloved wife. 

The honeymoon trip was deferred until 1904, 
when the Laemmles re-visited their German 
homes, taking with them their year-old daughter, 
Rosabelle. Returning to Oshkosh, Laemmle went 
on expanding his campaign and enlarging the 
business. The traders of his western territory be- 
gan to talk about him. In 1905, when Oshkosh 
decided to preserve a group of its most eminent 
citizens, he took a modest place on the floor as 
junior member of the elected fifteen. Moreover, 
working on a salary and commission, he was at 
last beginning to put money in his purse. 

He was now thirty-eight, and conscious that 
if he was to have a career, he ought to do some- 
thing about it before he was forty. The Con- 
tinental Clothing Company, nicely remunerative 
as it was proving to be, could hardly be regarded 
as a career. Nevertheless, twelve years with one 
substantial firm meant, it was to be supposed, a 
security that was not lightly to be sacrificed. He 



OSHKOSH, WISCONSIN 



57 



now had a family to support, and had he been 
left undisturbed in his employment, he might 
well have postponed any departure from it in- 
definitely. He would then, doubtless, in due 
course have risen to preside over representative 
groups of Oshkosh worthies, and been known 
as Uncle Carl only to a few mildly dutiful neph- 
ews and nieces. On the whole, too, he was con- 
tent in Oshkosh, "pedalling," in that same friend's 
recollection, "Napoleon up the street. Napoleon 
was his bike, a dark blue enamelled wheel, with 
the name Napoleon in nickel on the stem of the 
fork." In after years he liked to go back to the 
place, visiting his old lodgings, pottering — by 
courtesy of a later manager — behind the familiar 
counter of the Continental, and once being ban- 
quetted by the town's leading citizens. On such 
an occasion one of his companions remarked, 
"Good you left this place," and he replied simply, 
"No, I was happy here." 

His hand, however, was forced in an unex- 
pected way. His assumed security, it seemed, was 
not all that he supposed. His percentage on the 
profits of the business was already considerable, 
but in his opinion the distribution between him- 
self and some of his salesmen was not equitable. 
He placed his views before Sam Stern, and was 
called to Chicago to discuss them. Stern liked him, 
and knew his value as a servant. To speak more 
strictly, he did not exactly know it. He made the 



58 



CARL LAEMMLE 



quite common error of believing that sentiment 
should not be allowed to interfere with business. 
There is little satisfaction to be found in the re- 
construction of old quarrels that probably were 
stupid at the time, and from which the bitterness 
has long since passed. But the operations of Stern's 
mind are not difficult to perceive. Here was an 
employee asking for more money. Why pay it? 
Why indeed, not replace him by someone who 
would take less? It was bad business logic, but in 
concluding that Stern was short-sighted in the 
matter there is no reason to add that he was black- 
hearted. On some irrelevant question, he drove 
Laemmle into a quarrel. Laemmle, not without 
consternation, saw that he was being driven, and 
began to discern the reason. Had he been a little 
more accomplished in these things, he might have 
controlled himself to the soft answers that are 
said to turn away wrath. But his discretion failed 
him in the crisis. 

And yet, did it? He had come down from Osh- 
kosh uncertain whether he would go back with 
his percentage adjusted to his liking, but at least 
with no misgiving as to the stability of his posi- 
tion. And now suddenly he found himself in 
danger of being cut adrift from employment. He 
had known too much about that sort of thing in 
the old days; now, with his far greater responsi- 
bilities, the prospect was little less than terrifying. 
His duty to his family and himself was clear. He 



OSHKOSH, WISCONSIN 



59 



must pull himself together, placate Stern, and go 
back to Oshkosh on the old terms, thankful that 
after all no worse had come of it. And then, as 
the two men began to raise their voices, did some 
latent and long-disciplined ambition assert itself 
in defiance of more prudent counsels? I suspect 
that this is what happened. Let discretion go 
hang, it prompted; take a risk. Take a big risk; 
you're going to be forty in a year. Do it now, or 
you'll never do it. Very well, here goes. "If you 
want my resignation, you can have it right now." 
As he heard the words come from his lips he was 
horrified. What the devil was he saying? And 
what the devil was Sam Stern saying? "I accept 
it" — that was what Sam Stern was saying. Accept 
what? Look here, what is all this about, anyway? 
An hour ago he had come into the room for an 
amiable business dsicussion, and now 

It should be added that Stern later behaved in 
the handsomest manner to his old employee. He 
interpreted liabilities under their contract in the 
most liberal manner, and when Laemmle, nego- 
tiating for his first lease in Chicago a few months 
later, was asked for guarantees altogether beyond 
his resources, it was Stern who voluntarily came 
forward with the necessary security. 

The interview was the turning point in 
Laemmle's life, but at the moment he did not 
know it. He only knew that he had to go back to 
Oshkosh that night and tell his wife that he had 



6o 



CARL LAEMMLE 



got the sack. He took the night train, and sat 
awake in a desperate confusion of mind until 
his arrival in the morning. In a few hours every- 
body in the town would know it — Carl Laemmle 
of the Continental had been sacked. Of course, 
he had resigned, but that would amount to 
nothing for a story. He had been a hot-headed 
fool. Hadn't he? 

Recha Laemmle rose splendidly to the occasion. 
Her husband a fool? Not at all. He had done the 
right thing. They had savings enough to give 
them a chance of looking round, and there was 
no occasion for worry. This is the kind of quiet 
heroism that puts heart into a man, and it put 
heart into Laemmle. Within a day or two the 
perspectives began to straighten out. Perhaps he 
really had done the right thing. Yes, undoubtedly. 
Sam Stern should see. The Laemmles decided to 
go back to Chicago. 

The man who had left the great city twelve 
years ago had been a small clerk with his finer 
faculties untried. Now he returned, troubled and 
aimless about the future, but with a sense of 
power and ideas that could function to a definite 
purpose. He did not know what he was going to 
do, but he knew now that if he could find right 
employment for them he had abilities that would 
lift him out of the tedious grooves of commerce. 
He had a friend, Robert H. Cochrane, an adver- 
tising agent who had handled a good deal of his 



OSHKOSH, WISCONSIN 



6l 



Oshkosh propaganda. Cochrane now urged him, 
whatever his new start might be, to go into busi- 
ness on his own account. He decided to follow 
the advice, and considered how best to utilise his 
experience in marketing large quantities of cheap 
goods. He wanted to sell something that every- 
body could and would buy, and the surest bid 
seemed to be the investment of his capital in 
establishing a chain of five and ten cent stores. 
The scheme was taking substantial shape in his 
mind, when his attention was diverted. 

This, as I have said, is not a history of the film 
industry ; neither is it a history of the evolution of 
the motion-picture process. Photographic prin- 
ciples were known to the ancients, and from the 
time at least when the American }. W. Draper 
produced a daguerreotype portrait of his sister in 
1840, inventive minds were busy with the idea of 
representing motion by means of the camera. In 
the early seventies, Edward Murbridge, an Eng- 
lish photographer who in 1867, the year of 
Laemmle's birth, had been employed by the 
United States Government to bring back pictures 
from the recently purchased territory of Alaska, 
was in California, taking a succession of in- 
stantaneous photographs with a row of cameras. 
He is said in this way to have demonstrated for 
the first time the true action of a horse in move- 
ment. In 1876, Jean A. Le Roy performed a vari- 
ant of the same experiment with a pair of dancers, 



62 



CARL LAEMMLE 



passing through an illuminated apparatus a series 
of two hundred slides, each of a separately posed 
picture. In 1888 Louis le Prince was experiment- 
ing in Leeds. At the Chester meeting of the 
Photographic Convention of the United King- 
dom in 1890, W. Friese Greene exhibited a cam- 
era which he claimed could take negatives at the 
rate of six hundred a minute; about fifteen hun- 
dred is the rate of the modern motion picture 
camera. In 1894, Le Roy in New York astonished 
a select audience of twenty-five leading impre- 
sarios by projecting on to a screen eighty feet of 
genuine cinematographic film; indeed he called 
his invention "The Marvellous Cinematograph." 
Eugene Lauste was already experimenting with 
sound films. 

Investigations in the same direction were being 
simultaneously conducted in various parts of the 
world, although in most of the developments 
American ingenuity led the way. It may have 
been that there more actively than anywhere else 
was felt to be immense industrial opportunity 
waiting upon mechanical progress. Once let the 
camera prove itself capable of practical everyday 
use on the screen, there was a vast public, far 
greater than had ever been organised by any 
form of entertainment in history, ready for its 
product. When Friese Green and Le Roy showed 
the results of their experiments, it was clear that 
the mechanical problems were approaching solu- 



OSHKOSH, WISCONSIN 



63 



tion. But it was not until the early years of the 
new century that a few business men began to 
foresee the commercial future of the film. Among 
these was Carl Laemmle. At the moment when 
he was contemplating his chain of stores, the 
moving picture was becoming popular as a side 
show run by business firms for advertising pur- 
poses, also in Vaudeville houses as a "chaser" to 
see the audience out at the end of the programme. 
Laemmle suddenly realised that it must shortly 
become an industry of capital importance in itself. 
He contributed nothing to the early science of 
motion photography, but he was among the first 
to see the possibilities of its application. He came 
into the business before it had attracted any con- 
siderable enterprise or executive ability. For a 
quarter of a century he was to be an important 
influence upon its nature and tendencies, during 
its expansion from insignificance to a dominat- 
ing place in world showmanship. In 1900, there 
was no film industry. In 1905, its activities were 
so trifling that no record of its figures has been 
kept. By the most recent estimates there are now 
over twenty-two thousand motion picture theatres 
in the United States alone, representing a capital 
value of fourteen hundred million dollars; the 
combined pay roll of the producing companies 
and the sums paid by the public for admission are 
to-day computed in thousands of millions yearly. 
The conditions of this vast enterprise have in 



6 4 



CARL LAEMMLE 



many important respects been determined by 
Laemmle's insight and courage. His connection 
with it has brought him a fortune, and as one of 
the leaders of its economics he has showa a gen- 
uine concern also for the improvement of its 
taste and intelligence. He came through to his 
great position by way of a bitter and uncompro- 
mising struggle, and now in the evening of his 
career no one is to be found with a bad word for 
him. 



CHAPTER V 



THE FILMS. INDEPENDENCE 

Once his intention was formed, Laemmle lost 
no time in its realisation. On his thirty-ninth 
birthday, January 17th, 1906, he was in Chicago, 
still meditating the advantages of chain stores. 
Within a month he had rented vacant premises on 
Milwaukee Avenue, and was converting them to 
the use of a nickelodeon, or five-cent picture house. 
He painted the building white, called it "The 
White Front," and kept it clean inside. It was a 
bid for feminine patronage, and it succeeded. 
Two months later he was able to open a second 
house, naming it "The Family Theatre." There 
for ten cents a man could take his wife or best girl 
to see what was then considered a good film in 
what was then considered comfort. Laemmle saw 
to it that the film was the best that could be got, 
and that the comfort was at least notablv above 
that of rival nickelodeons. 

Intervals between the pictures were enlivened 
by screen slides bearing such captions as "Ladies 
Please Remove Your Hats" ; "Have You an Auto- 
mobile?"; "It's Raining Outside"; "Don't Expec- 

65 



66 



CARL LAEMMLE 



torate on the Floor" ; "Please Don't Throw Pea- 
nut Shells on the Floor" ; "No Whistling, please, 
during Illustrated Songs"; "If Intoxicated Your 
Patronage is Not Desired." 

In October of the same year, his two theatres 
prosperously launched, he went a further step 
forward in the opening of The Laemmle Film 
Service. Its business, conducted at first in premises 
fifteen feet by thirty, was the distribution of 
films to theatre proprietors. Laemmle found that 
many of the existing services were slack in organi- 
sation and uncertain in delivery. It was not a 
question of bad faith, but of deficient business 
acumen. He decided to establish a service that 
should be known to every customer as unfailing in 
its undertakings. Its progress is indicated by the 
fact that early in 1907 Robert H. Cochrane paid 
two thousand five hundred dollars for a tenth 
interest in the business. Laemmle put the money 
back into the concern. During one year he three 
times had to move into larger premises. 

Cochrane's association with Laemmle was to 
have far reaching effects. Born in 1879, Cochrane 
was twelve years younger than his associate. His 
early training as a journalist had equipped him 
with a direct, forceful style that was invaluable 
when he later turned his gifts to expert advertis- 
ing. He knew how to get an advertisement read 
and how to leave an impression on the reader after- 
wards. That exactly was what Laemmle was look- 



THE FILMS. INDEPENDENCE 



6 7 



ing for. He was full of ideas and knew always 
the kind of thing that he wanted to say, but he 
was quick-witted enough to recognise a better 
talent than his own for the best way of saying it. 
In the coming years, when, in the fight against 
the Picture Trust, advertising was Laemmle's 
most effective weapon, he brought Cochrane into 
close co-operation in the conduct of a campaign 
that swept an industry ofT its feet, and brought 
what seemed to be invincible interests to surren- 
der. When the victory had been won, Cochrane's 
fortunes were inseparably bound to Laemmle's. 
The two men have continued together with un- 
broken confidence, and to-day Cochrane is Vice- 
President of Laemmle's Universal Pictures Cor- 
poration. 

By 1909 The Laemmle Film Service had be- 
come the largest distributor in the United States, 
which in this connotation meant the world. It 
had earned the unusual reputation of being both 
progressive and straight. Its customers were 
taught to expect the best goods on the best terms, 
and they were never let down. We may turn for 
a moment to note some of the contemporary 
events and personalities of the film business at 
that period. In 1906 William Fox was a cloth- 
sponger, Samuel Goldwyn a glove-dealer, Jesse 
Lasky the cornet in an orchestra, and Tom Mix 
a United States Marshal. In the same year, Adolph 
Zukor left furs for the theatre, and the Warner 



68 



CARL LAEMMLE 



Brothers were already exhibiting moving pictures. 
Will Hays, to-day the film over-lord, was about 
to make an entrance into national politics. One 
day a red-cheeked boy of fourteen walked into the 
Family Theatre and asked Laemmle for a job as 
piano player. He got it, eventually receiving as 
much as fifteen dollars a week. His name was 
Sam Katz. Down the street he found another 
youth doing a song turn. It was Abe Balaban, 
and the Balaban-Katz circuit of theatres was 
the consequence of the meeting. 

When he opened his first theatres Laemmle's 
average takings were about two hundred dollars 
a week. He managed the houses himself, paying 
particular heed to questions of courtesy, cleanli- 
ness, fire risks and such amenities, did his own 
errands, and employed his sister-in-law to sell 
tickets. His enterprise was restless. With the 
founding of the Film Service he became an ex- 
ecutive of daily increasing interests. He bought 
films outright so that his firm might have sup- 
plies for exclusive distribution, he made it his 
special concern to get into personal touch with 
as many of the smaller theatre proprietors as pos- 
sible, and he kept on telling everybody that the 
future, an incalculably splendid future, was with 
the moving picture. He ingeniously took full 
page advertisements inciting Vaudeville man- 
agers to give the films better advertising; he 
warned them not to neglect their most saleable 



THE FILMS. INDEPENDENCE 



6 9 



commodity. In short, he was a man of high 
ability raised towards the pitch of genius by an 
irresistible faith. This was a small game yet — 
game is no bad word for these pioneer excite- 
ments — but, he announced in tones almost of 
dedication, it was very soon going to be a mighty 
big one. 

The fixed purpose of a few men like Laemmle 
was persuading the world, and great capital re- 
sources were beginning to bid for the spoils of a 
cause that clearly was going to be won. By 1909 
the film industry, though far from the magnitude 
that it was rapidly to achieve, was manifestly 
worth exploiting. The usual gangs of financial 
piracy were at work, getting their grappling hooks 
firmly into the threatened prey. Their field of 
operations was the producing side of the business, 
their object being to control the sources of supply. 
Once they could do this, they would be in a 
position to dictate terms to the consumers, both 
distributors and exhibitors. It was an attractive 
scheme, full of untold possibilities. There seemed 
to be but little difficulty in its way. A reasonable 
sense of common interests might at this stage 
easily consolidate the operations of the producers. 
The common interests, that is to say, of the pro- 
ducers themselves. They were at present a small 
and compact body, who could readily come to 
agreement on essential matters of policy. They 
met, they conferred, and they agreed. And then, 



70 



CARL LAEMMLE 



on January ist, 1909, they summoned the dis- 
tributors to a convention at the Imperial Hotel 
in New York City, to hear what were to be the 
future conditions of their business. 

There was no reason to fear that the audience 
would not be docile, but docile or not, no conces- 
sions were to be made. The producers had unity, 
and they had power. They were the men who 
made the pictures, and in consequence were en- 
titled to deliver them only on such terms as they 
chose. That, surely, must be clear to any but liti- 
gious or disaffected minds. In this exalted mood 
the dictators presented their demands, or, rather, 
their instructions. 

At first came startling news of the formation of 
a body that was to be known as the Motion Picture 
Patents Company. It was to aim at absolute con- 
trol of all existing Letters Patent connected with 
the moving picture business. Cameras, projection 
machines, celluloid film — in fact the entire range 
of the industry's material was to be procurable only 
from the combine. The leading manufacturers had 
already joined the ring. The preparations had 
been thorough, and every loophole of escape care- 
fully wired. 

The astonished distributors were then informed 
that under the Patents Company would be nine 
Licensees, who would enjoy a monopolistic right 
to make motion pictures. The hold-up was com- 
plete. And in order that the consumers might be 



THE FILMS. INDEPENDENCE 7 1 

left in no doubt as to their subjection to the Trust, 
every theatre exhibitor in the United States would 
have to pay two dollars a week for a license to 
show films. Any distributor or proprietor who 
ventured to dispute the Trust's authority would 
be punished by immediate boycott; no pictures 
would be rented to him. In other words, the con- 
sumers, distributing and exhibiting, were to be 
compelled to co-operate with the Trust on its own 
terms. 

The announcements were concluded, and the 
meeting declared to be at an end. The audience 
was not invited to express opinions ; it was merely 
ordered to submit. The submission might be taken 
as read. There was not in the country a reel of film 
that the Trust did not control, nor the means of 
making one without the Trust's consent. It is not 
necessary to specify the constituent members of the 
Trust ; it is enough to say that they included every 
leading film producer and manufacturer operating 
in the States. Resistance, they might be forgiven 
for supposing, was not to be feared. Indeed, it 
would need a great deal of ingenuity to see any 
possible point at which resistance could begin. 

Laemmle's chance had come. How it could be 
any kind of chance neither he nor anyone else at 
the moment could say, but he went away from the 
Imperial Hotel with an instinct that chance it was. 
He and his rival distributors were in a fury of in- 
dignation, but he alone dared to ask himself 



72 



CARL LAEMMLE 



whether something could not be done about it. He 
decided that it could. What it might be he could 
not tell, but the fighting spirit in the man was 
quickened by a call to action far shriller and more 
challenging than any that he had heard before. He 
was convinced on the spot that the Trust was in 
every way an evil thing, menacing the whole fu- 
ture development of the industry, and proposing 
to crush competition by a merciless abuse of privi- 
lege. The whole character of this new tyranny was 
corrupt and demoralising — so he believed, and the 
belief was not captious, but a deep, a passionate 
conviction. It was not that Laemmle's personal 
interests were assailed. He was not a big enough 
man for the Trust to fear as an antagonist, but he 
was big enough to be welcomed as a confederate. 
Had he chosen at this time to comply with the 
Trust's demands, the accommodation would have 
been very richly rewarded. His refusal was in- 
spired by genuine hatred for what he conceived to 
be abominable trade morals. 

He considered the position. On reflection it be- 
came clear that the only hope lay in communicat- 
ing his own sense of injustice to the rank and file 
of consumers throughout the country. Frontal at- 
tack on the Trust was hopeless, indeed there was 
no way in which it could be launched. But if a 
spirit of revolt could be organised in the consum- 
ers as a body, some effect might be made. It was a 
strategy that would entail immense courage, pa- 



THE FILMS. INDEPENDENCE 



73 



tience, and danger, but there was no alternative. 
And Laemmle saw at once that it presented hard- 
ly less difficulty than the frontal attack, that it 
would be but little easier to originate. He was the 
largest distributor in the country, but the prestige 
which that might give him among the ex- 
hibitors would vanish so soon as he had nothing 
to distribute, which would be immediately, unless 
he capitulated. He began to formulate a plan that 
in its daring and in its brilliant execution affords, 
I think, one of the most stirring episodes of mod- 
ern industrial history. 

It was based on no less formidable a realisation 
than that somehow in spite of the Trust he must 
produce pictures of his own, and somehow induce 
the exhibitors to defy the Trust by buying them. 
It was a gigantic undertaking, and Laemmle spent 
three months bracing himself to it. By April, 1909, 
his mind was made up, and on the 18th of that 
month The Sunday Telegram contained the fol- 
lowing statement: 

The monotony of absolute quietness in film 
circles, both among Independents and the Patents 
people, was broken last week when it was an- 
nounced that the Laemmle Film Service, with nine 
branches, had gone independent. 

Laemmle had given in his fortnight's notice to the 
Patents Company on the 12th. It was an unpleas- 
ant surprise for the Trust, but no worse than that; 



74 



CARL LAEMMLE 



certainly not a serious shock. Though Laemmle 
would have been a valuable ally, if he wanted to 
ruin himself, let him. But he by no means contem- 
plated ruin. Once his decision was made he at- 
tacked the Trust with a headlong vigour that by 
successive stages became inconvenient, dangerous, 
and finally annihilating. He knew from the first 
that the contest could not be a short one, and he 
prepared himself for a war of attrition. Seeing that 
the Trust had as many millions at its disposal as 
he had thousands, and seeing that it also had the 
entire field of action firmly under its strategic con- 
trol, Laemmle's design seemed little better than in- 
fatuation. But he was now in no mood to be 
daunted by any odds. He had become a gospeller ; 
he had, moreover, an added domestic responsibil- 
ity in a year-old son, Carl Junior. The world might 
declare victory to be impossible, but, for himself, 
defeat was not to be considered. He engaged with 
an almost demoniac impetuosity, that was in truth 
the only prudence. 

He rented prominent advertising space in The 
Show World and The Moving Picture News on 
long contracts, and week after week he deluged 
the Trust with invective. But it was invective with 
a difference. There could be nothing mealy- 
mouthed about the charge that he was making. 
He was not a product of one of the older universi- 
ties, and he was not addressing an academic de- 



THE FILMS. INDEPENDENCE 75 

• 

bating society. He was appealing as one of them- 
selves to men reared in a rough school and accus- 
tomed to a crude slapstick idiom, rich in colour 
and lavish of emphasis. He and Cochrane between 
them used this instrument with an efficiency un- 
exampled at the time. But if they abused with ir- 
repressible gusto, they were careful that every 
word of invective should be securely founded. Dur- 
ing three years and more of incessant denuncia- 
tion, made in terms of reckless candour, they were 
never once betrayed into anything that resembled 
a mis-statement of fact. They were ruthless and 
they were offensive, but they were scrupulous in 
their veracity. In that lay the strength and, finally, 
the triumph of their cause. As months and years 
went by, and no pertinent answer was made to 
their highly scandalous accusations, public opinion 
began to assert itself, until in the end government 
action was taken and the Trust destroyed. But 
that was a far cry from Laemmle's announcement 
of April, 1909. 

On the 24th, when his withdrawal from the 
Trust was known, he announced that he was 
"Swamped with Hundreds of Wildly Enthusiastic 
Letters and Telegrams, Congratulating Me On 
Becoming Independent." He added "A thousand 
thanks, fellow fighters, and a renewal of my iron 
clad promise to give you the best Films and the 
best service at all times in spite of Hades itself." 



7 6 



CARL LAEMMLE 



He claimed that his resignation sounded the 
death-knell of monopoly, and exclaimed "Good 
morning ! Have you paid two dollars for a license 
to smoke your own pipe this week?" At the same 
time he issued this "Warning to Exhibitors": 

You are going to hear more lies about inde- 
pendent films and about me within the next few 
weeks than you ever heard in your life. The film 
octopus and its exchanges are frantic and are circu- 
lating the most ridiculous stories they can manu- 
facture. Read the following letter that came to me 
from Ira W. Jones, Green Bay, Wis., and then read 
my comment: 

My dear Mr. Laemmle: A smart aleck from 
Chicago came to my place the other day and sprung 
it on me that I was liable to all kinds of fines and 
calamities for running your films, and said you had 
been kicked out of the Trust. I didn't throw him 
out bodily but am sorry since that I didn't. He said 
I couldn't leave the Trust for two years. Is there 
anything in that nonsense? 

Yours, Ira W. Jones. 

Now listen to me: 

First neither Mr. Jones, nor you, nor anybody else 
is liable to "fines and calamities" for running my 
films. It's so absurd that I may be making a mis- 
take in even noticing it. But, in case anyone is in 
doubt, let him take it from me that if any fines or 
calamities are imposed upon any customer of mine, 
I will back the exhibitor with all the resources at 
my command and I'll win his fight for him or bust 
myself! 



THE FILMS. INDEPENDENCE 



77 



In the second place, you can quit using licensed 
films any minute you want to. You don't have to 
stick two years, two months, two hours or two 
minutes. 

In the third place, you know that the Patents 
Company didn't "kick me out." You know they 
would give their heart and soul to keep me with 
them. You know that my refusal to buy any more 
licensed films was a death blow to them. 

You are going to hear other lies about inde- 
pendent films. But if anyone comes into your place 
and tries to scare you with any sort of bluff, hand 
him one swift, speedy kick in the seating capacity 
and I'll pay the damages. 

"As a whole," he said in an interview, "the out- 
look was never more promising. The Indepen- 
dents, as sure as water runs down hill, will win 
this fight with flying colours." In the middle of 
May, a month after his declaration, The Motion 
Picture News, a free journal, made a significant 
editorial announcement: 

Mr. Carl Laemmle has been brought very much 
before the eyes of the trade during the past two or 
three weeks, owing to the stand he took regarding 
the Patents Company. The Trust has tried through 
its subsidized press, to belittle and browbeat the man 
who was its largest customer. We have no doubt in 
our mind that the loss of 250,000 dollars a year to 
the Associated Manufacturers of the Patents Com- 
pany meant a severe blow and loss to them. The 
only way in which they can get back at Carl 
Laemmle is by trying to prejudice the trade against 



78 



CARL LAEMMLE 



him. We think the methods adopted by the Trust 
are the best advertisement Carl Laemmle could get. 
All honour is due to a man who can come out from 
one profession and adopt another and from a prac- 
tically unknown man, rise to be The King of Film 
Renters. It was the hardest blow the Patents Com- 
pany had received up to that time, and it almost 
paralysed them with amazement and chagrin. 

This was all very encouraging, but the crucial 
problem of the situation was unsolved. Laemmle 
in promising his customers to give them still "The 
best Films and the best service at all times," was 
giving a bold, it might seem a gravely irresponsible 
pledge. Where was he to get the best films from? 
A certain amount of derelict stock was on the open 
market, but this could hardly serve his undertak- 
ing. The introduction of foreign films was an al- 
ternative, but the Trust was already making what, 
largely by Laemmle's agency, ultimately proved 
to be an abortive attempt to secure legislation 
against this. In the meantime an inadequate sup- 
ply from abroad might hold off collapse for a 
month or two, and give Laemmle time to inaugu- 
rate the constructive scheme that was to be de- 
veloped in conjunction with his exposure of the 
Trust. The hope was realised. J. J. Murdoch, 
founder of the International, helped the new en- 
terprise in securing raw stock, and further by a 
considerable loan. In June, 1909, Laemmle 
emerged from the crisis with the announcement: 



THE FILMS. INDEPENDENCE 



79 



Extra ! ! 

Carl Laemmle becomes a Film Manufacturer. 
Organises a New Company to be Totally Separate 
from the Laemmle Film Service. 

During the intervening weeks he had worked 
ferociously. An enthusiast declared that it was 
impossible to photograph Laemmle, "he was too 
quick for the lens"; and another, "Laemmle 
works while he sleeps, but he never sleeps while 
he works. It is rumoured that he stays at the office 
so late at night that he meets himself coming to 
work in the morning. And the chances are that 
when he meets himself, he's got some brand new 
scheme to tell himself about." 

A studio had been opened on East 14th Street, 
New York, in premises from which a three foot 
accumulation of dirt on the floors had to be cleared 
away. The contractor who owned the place asked 
a rental of two hundred dollars a month, and 
Laemmle gave a hundred. Delays in equipment, 
however, became serious, and Laemmle, with not 
a day to waste, sent William Ranous, his first di- 
rector, out to Minneapolis to go forward with 
the making of a picture that had been suggested 
by James Bryson, the man who is to-day British 
manager of the Universal Pictures Corporation. A 
company of players who shared Laemmle's dis- 
like for the Trust had been engaged, and cameras 
had been secured from a producing firm that had 



8o 



CARL LAEMMLE 



recently gone out of business. The celluloid film, 
known as raw stock, was another matter. It was 
almost entirely in the control of Eastman, who 
was under agreement with the Trust to supply no 
independent producer. But the French firm Lum- 
iere had recently opened an American office in 
New York, managed by Jules Brulatour. To him 
Laemmle turned, and finding the French Com- 
pany unsympathetic to Trust authority, he was al- 
lowed a small ration of raw stock. The last obstacle 
to production was removed. He incorporated as 
"The Yankee Films Company." Dissatisfied with 
the name, he offered a prize for a better. "The In- 
dependent Moving Pictures Company of Amer- 
ica" was suggested. Mr. Mapes of New York, who 
took the twenty-five dollars, was run close by Mr. 
Bradlet, also of New York, who, however, was 
awarded only a consolation prize for the same sug- 
gestion, since Mr. Mapes ingeniously adorned his 
entry with a trade-mark design bearing the legend 
"IMP." The name was to be famous in the film 
history of the following years. The first advertise- 
ment of the company, with Carl Laemmle as 
President, appeared in the early autumn: 

First Release of IMP Films 

Almost Ready. 

There's no use pretending we are not excited 
about it, for we are. After weeks and months of 
terribly hard work and lavish outlay of coin, we are 



THE FILMS. INDEPENDENCE 8l 

about to throw the product of our new factory upon 
the market. Watch! Listen! Wait! We're not going 
to make any rash claims, but we do promise you the 
grandest American-made moving pictures you ever 
saw. 

And on October 23rd, this was followed by: 

At last! At last! 

With a soul full of hope and a heart full of pride 
and enthusiasm, I now announce the 

First Release of "IMP" Films 
Monday, October 25th! 

Film exchanges and exhibitors by the hundred 
have been urging me to hurry up with this first re- 
lease, but to all alike I have said: "None of the 
going-off-half-cocked business for mine!" I have 
held back week after week to be absolutely certain 
that everything is in ship shape. And I now present 

"HIAWATHA." 

Length 988 feet. Taken at the Falls of Minnehaha 
in the Land of the Dacotahs. And you can bet it is 
classy or I wouldn't make it my first release. The 
title explains the nature of the picture. It is taken 
from Longfellow's masterpiece of poesy and it is 
a gem of photography and acting. Following this I 
will release some more pictorial corkers and some 
screamingly funny stuff, bearing the true stamp of 
American humour. Get "Hiawatha" and see if you 



82 



CARL LAEMMLE 



don't agree that it starts a brand new era in Ameri- 
can moving pictures. 

Carl Laemmle, President 

My Motto will be: The best films that man's in- 
genuity can devise and the best films man's skill 
can execute. And no cheating on measurements. 

All genuine "IMP" films bear this little trade 
mark which is fully protected by law. Address all 
IMP mail to 

in, East 14th Street, 

New York, N. Y. 

Laemmle held the release back until the 25th, 
because that was his father's birthday. 



CHAPTER VI 



THE TRUST FIGHT 

Laemmle was now fighting not a lone hand, 
but with organised and progressive forces. It was 
a remarkable showing for six months, and there- 
after he never allowed the campaign to lose mo- 
mentum. Already in June the Trust had shown 
signs of apprehension, and Laemmle had not hesi- 
tated to make them public: 

I have been notified by the film trust that I can 
have any or all of its new subjects that I might 
want, in spite of the fact that I am the biggest cus- 
tomer of the International Projecting and Pro- 
ducing Company. Did you ever hear anything to 
beat that? Did you ever expect such positive proof 
that the trust cannot stop the International people — 
and knows that it can't? This astonishing offer 
came direct from men who, to my absolute knowl- 
edge, are employed by film trust manufacturers. Of 
course they swear by all that's good that they are 
acting independently of the trust, but that's as trans- 
parent as glass. If they think it is dishonourable in 
me to publish what they told me "in strict confi- 
dence," let them remember that I gave public warn- 
ing to everybody that I would expose the innermost 

83 



84 



CARL LAEMMLE 



insides of the film situation every time I got hold of 
facts worth publishing. My whole purpose is to rip 
things wide open, let the exhibitors know precisely 
what is going on and trust them for my patronage. 
I don't want any exhibitor to hesitate about using 
my films for fear of disastrous consequences. I want 
him to know exactly what's what! And if anyone 
doesn't like my methods of exposure, he knows 
what he can do. 

The Trust, reading that, realised that this fellow 
was turning out to be more than it had bargained 
for, but it was still not prepared for the monstrous 
irregularities of October. It was even less prepared 
to find that this insurgent IMP was ready to pro- 
duce pictures at a most disconcerting rate. "Hia- 
watha" was followed by eleven more releases by 
the end of the year; in 191 o there were a hundred, 
three companies of players being in operation, and 
the directors were allowed a week for the mak- 
ing of each picture; in 19 11 the number rose to a 
hundred and twenty, and twenty-four were re- 
leased in the first five weeks of 19 12, at the end 
of which time the company was merged in the 
new Sales Company, an association of Laemmle 
with other independent producers who by then 
had followed his example. 

Laemmle had been a man to disregard, then one 
to fear, and now he was a man to break. In spite 
of difficulties, both of time and equipment, IMP 
pictures soon began to reach a surprisingly high 



THE TRUST FIGHT 



85 



level of production. In February, 19 12, that is to 
say little more than two years after the release of 
"Hiawatha," Laemmle could announce that west 
of Chicago he and his fellow independents were 
providing no less than fifty percent of the entire 
moving picture consumption. From the end of 
1909, in short, Laemmle the distributor, with the 
aid of Laemmle the producer, was able to make 
reasonable redemption of his promise to give cus- 
tomers "best service of the best films." And the 
Trust, seeing incredible things come to pass, de- 
cided that Laemmle must be broken, having fin- 
ally convinced itself that he could not be bought. 
"Again I renew my pledge to you," he wrote to 
his exhibitors in June, 19 10, "that I will rot in 
Hades before I will join the Trust, or anything 
that looks like a Trust. How is your backbone?" 

Moreover, by the time that IMP had established 
itself, the Trust was not only concerned by dimin- 
ishing support, which was serious, Laemmle ad- 
vertising at the end of a year that whereas in the 
first months of the combine seven thousand ex- 
hibitors had been paying the two dollars weekly 
for their licenses, less than four thousand were do- 
ing so now. This was bad enough; the potential 
income, entirely unearned, to the Trust from these 
licenses had been computed at a million dollars 
annually, and it was most disappointing to find it 
slipping away in this highly unsatisfactory fashion. 
But the defection of a licensee meant, of course, 



86 



CARL LAEMMLE 



something far more considerable than the loss of 
two dollars a week ; it meant the loss of his exclu- 
sive patronage of Trust products. Further, the 
alarm that was slowly being engendered by these 
considerations, was aggravated by acute indigna- 
tion as Laemmle week by week in the public 
prints castigated the Trust and all its doings in 
language of enthusiastic opprobrium. Casual in- 
sult might have been ignored, but when it was 
repeated with unfailing regularity and point on 
Tuesdays and Fridays throughout the year, it be- 
came intolerable. And so the Trust rose in its 
might to teach this traducer of powerful monopo- 
lists a lesson, only to find that he was obstinately 
disinclined to learn. 

Certainly, the provocation was extreme. Coch- 
rane invented a military figure designated as Gen. 
Flimco, who in an extensive series of cartoons was 
presented in unbecoming attitudes, grabbing, 
squealing, or dragooning. The accompanying 
letter-press exploited a variety of recurrent themes. 
First of these was the two dollar license imposition. 

Don't let old Gen. Flimco shake you down for 
two bones a week or anything else! He is laughing 
openly and brazenly at every exhibitor who is 
enough of a soft mark to stand for such a hold-up 
and shake-down. If you got anything for the money 
it would be all right. But what do you get? Pro- 
tection? Don't be absurd! You are less protected in 
his hands than anywhere else on God's green foot- 



THE TRUST FIGHT 



87 



stool. Better films? If you think so it is because you 
probably have not seen any Independent films for 
the past few months. Or else you have been up 
against the ja\e Independent exchanges run for the 
purpose of hurting the independent game. No, dear 
old top, you're not getting a blooming thing for 
your two dollars and the sooner you admit it, the 
sooner you'll assert your independence. But, for the 
love of Profit, when you go independent, go inde- 
pendent RIGHT! Connect with the biggest and 
best film renter in the world — the one man who has 
fought to keep you from being gouged, plucked, 
skinned, pickled and parboiled while you were 
snoring at the switch! 

Outrageous, but how was it to be answered? Some- 
how, the Trust could not think of any answer at 
all. "Have you paid your two dollars for a license 
to breathe this week?" Impudence, upstart impu- 
dence — and yet, there came a disquieting echo 
from simple-minded exhibitors, "Are we?" One of 
them from the West, forwarding his license 
money, had written, "If it is for graft it is all right. 
We're used to it out here." It was all very mortify- 
ing. Not to put too fine a point on it, damn Mr. 
Laemmle. 

A Trust exchange in Memphis released a film 
before the scheduled date. The manager was fined 
five hundred dollars, being informed that he could 
pay in "spot cash" or leave. Laemmle told the 
world. Then there was the disagreeable business 
of what Laemmle disrespectfully called Old Mam- 



88 



CARL LAEMMLE 



ma Ten Percent. A dominating group of Trust 
exchanges agreed that any customer transferring 
his orders from one renter to another should be 
made to pay a penalty of ten per cent on his out- 
lay. As the exhibitors in those experimental days 
of the trade were uncertain from month to month 
as to what distributing house would best suit 
them, there was a constant shifting of custom, and 
the ten per cent artifice meant that in the aggre- 
gate dealing as between exhibitors and renters, 
the exhibitors would be paying a premium for 
which no value whatever was given. Laemmle 
saw through the fraud at once, and denounced it 
in what was now becoming his painfully familiar 
style : 

I Explore a Rotten Secret. 
There is a secret agreement among certain film 
exchanges handling trust films whereby, etc. . . . 
The object of this is so self evident that it would 
sink through the think tank of an addle-pated 
Wooden Indian. It is a hold up, pure and simple. 
. . . You have an inalienable right to transact your 
business with whomsoever you will. . . . Assert 
your rights . . . and I'll protect you against all the 
imaginary dangers that you think are hiding around 
the corner waiting to bat you on the box office. 

This was followed by: 

Gracious! Gracious! 

My exposure of the rotten secret regarding what 
some of the licensed exchanges are doing to the ex- 



THE TRUST FIGHT 



8 9 



hibitors stirred up an awful mess last week. Some 
of the licensed exchange men said it was unsports- 
manlike; others called it uglier names, but none of 
them had quite enough nerve to deny it. 

And then, shortly afterwards: 

She is Dead ! ! ! 
Murdered in Cold Bludddd by Carl Laemmle. 

She's dead! 
Old Mamma Ten Percent is dead! 

Deadernell! 

Get out the crepe! Sound the doleful drums of 
death. Boom! Let the mournful trombone croon its 
agonising dirge. Oom-pah! Oom-pah! Toll the bells. 

Ding-a-ling! 

For she's dead! 

No more will Old Mamma Ten Percent dance 
jigs of joy on the flattened pocket-book of Mr. Ex- 
hibitor. 

For she's deadernell! She died Monday, February 
28th. 

Old Mamma Ten Percent was a good friend of 
certain Licensed Exchanges. She made it impossible 
for an exhibitor to switch his business from one to 
another of them without paying a penalty of ten 
percent. 

I published the story week after week, hammer- 
ing it into the exhibitors until they took action and 
demanded that the penalty be abolished. 

And again the Trust was conscious of unpleasant 
sensations in the head, and took impotent counsel 
with itself. In one shady move after another it 



90 



CARL LAEMMLE 



found itself exposed to Laemmle's extremely accu- 
rate sharpshooting. It proposed to allow only one 
film exchange in each State of the Union. Laemm- 
le was down on the trick instantaneously. It 
would "confine each State's exhibitors to one 
source of supply and make them take what they 
can get or be eternally dodblasted ! This can lead 
only to one thing in small towns where there are 
but two or three theatres. The weaker exhibitor in 
town will be forced out of business." Laemmle 
claimed over and over again that he was the friend 
of the little men. Here once more he was loyal to 
their interests. The Trust made no answer. 

Another example of Trust tyranny was its at- 
tempt to dictate to exhibitors the prices of ad- 
mission in their theatres. The nickelodeons, or five 
cent houses, were ordered to raise the charge to 
ten cents, or lose their licenses. The Trust knew 
that in many cases the proprietors could not carry 
the increase with their public, and that refusal 
was inevitable. It was refusal that the Trust hoped 
for. It hoped to drive the little man out, and to 
take over his business and his profits. "Quit laying 
yourself open to this persecution" — in other words, 
quit the Trust and come to honest independents. 
The Trust, true to form, was struck speech- 
less. 

Again : instructions were given that in future all 
exhibitors must pay not two dollars weekly, but a 
hundred and four dollars yearly, in advance. 



THE TRUST FIGHT 



91 



Laemmle gave a hundred and four dollars to a 
friend who applied to the Trust for a year's license 
and paid the money. After a week or two he wrote 
saying that he desired to turn independent, and 
demanding the return of his unused payment. He 
was told that it was forfeit. Laemmle published the 
facts, and again the Trust could think of no lan- 
guage suitable to the occasion. 

But Laemmle, who had so far been at worst an 
objectionable and somewhat expensive nuisance, 
was now become dangerous. There had fallen into 
his possession the following remarkable letter: 

Motion Picture Patents Company, 
80, Fifth Avenue, 

New York City, 

May 9th, 1910. 

Mr. R. M. Davidson, 
Lyric Theatre, 4442, 
134, Water St., 

Binghamton, N. Y. 

Gentlemen : 

We have received through the Pittsburg Calcium 
Lt. & Film Co. application in your name for license 
for the Lyric Theatre. 

Upon examining our records we find that you 
are in arrears for royalty for the period from July 19, 
1909, to August 2nd, 1909, and from Jan. 3rd, 1910, 
to Jan. 10th, 1910, and from April 4th, 1910, to 
April nth, 1910. 

We will grant you a new license under the fol- 
lowing conditions: 



9 2 



CARL LAEMMLE 



ist. That you pay the back royalties that have 
accrued, amounting to eight dollars. 

2nd. That you use in your projecting machine 
only film made by a licensed manufacturer and ob- 
tained through a licensed exchange. This film must 
not be loaned or sub-rented. 

3rd. That you pay us 104 dollars as advance royal- 
ties for so much of the year beginning May 2nd, 
1910, during which you remain a licensee of this 
Company. If you voluntarily give up licensed serv- 
ice or if your license is terminated by us for breach 
of any conditions governing the use of licensed film 
before the end of said year, the said sum shall be 
considered as royalty for that portion of the year 
in which you were a licensee. 

Your exchange has been notified that your service 
may be continued after May 16th, 1910, upon the 
above terms only. 

Yours very truly, 
Motion Picture Patents Company. 

He at once sent this document to press in his ad- 
vertising columns, and, making an end of all dis- 
cretion, stigmatised the Trust in plain terms as the 
rascal that it was: 

I have just secured possession of the sensational 
letter reproduced below. Read it! It is a complete 
proof that the Trust's newest game is a desperate 
attempt to COMPEL EXHIBITORS TO PAY A 
YEAR'S "ROYALTIES" IN ADVANCE, in order 
to keep them from turning independent! I have 
always said the moving picture trust is the worst 



THE TRUST FIGHT 



93 



managed trust in America. This letter clinches it! 
For instead of compelling the exhibitors to stick to 
the trust for a year, it will result in the most over- 
whelming landslide toward Independence that has 
ever happened in the history of the business. Read 
that part of the letter marked "3rd." It is fool-proof. 
A child can understand it. It is a dead give-away! 
It means that you must pay 104 dollars "royalty" 
in advance. If you quit the trust exchanges the week 
or the month after you've paid up, the trust keeps 
your 104 dollars. Not satisfied with your two dollars 
a week in weekly payments, the trust now reaches 
out for a year's chunk in advance. One thing more : 
The letter is printed in the form of a circular with 
blank spaces left to be filled in by typewriter. This 
is trivial, except that it shows that ALL EXHIB- 
ITORS are going to get these letters, and that the 
letter does not apply merely to one or two isolated 
cases. Read that "3rd Condition" again. Take it 
home and play it on your pianola. Play it upside 
down, sidewise, before and behind. Tell, when 
you're all through, tell me what you think of it ! ! ! 

Even a plate-armoured Trust does not relish 
that kind of exposure. But three months later, that 
is in August, 19 10, its faith in taciturnity was to be 
yet more severely tried. This time Laemmle was 
able to publish a letter from one of the Trust's 
auxiliaries, which read: 

Denver Film Exchange, 
Denver, Colo., 

August 26, 1910. 



94 



CARL LAEMMLE 



Mr. W. F. Aldrach, 
Palace Theatre, 

Great Bend, Kans. 

Dear Sir: 

A few weeks ago your operator ruined two reels 
and we called your attention to the fact at the time. 
Explaining that we would later put in a claim for 
the damage. The writer returned from New York 
a few days ago and this matter was thoroughly dis- 
cussed with the final understanding that you must 
pay for the damage. 

To-day we find you sent in the Forgiven reel ab- 
solutely ruined. It is not our desire to be harsh or 
unreasonable in any manner, but you must now pay 
fifty dollars in partial settlement of the damage 
done by you. I shall to-night wire the General Film 
Company of this decision. 

For your information I will say that this exchange 
was sold to the General Film Company several days 
ago and the writer is now western manager of this 
concern which has absorbed nearly every exchange 
in the United States, including the Kleino Optical 
Company as well as the Yale exchanges in Kansas 
City and St. Louis and the Pittsburg Calcium Light 
Company. 

The writer cannot overlook expressing the 
opinion that it was actions such as this which 
prompted the formation of the General Film Com- 
pany which now has absolute charge of the busi- 
ness. We advised you in a very friendly manner 
just before leaving for the east regarding the value 
of the films and notice that you have again erased 
our value and reduced it to fifty dollars. It is not 
the writer's intention at this time to go into any 



THE TRUST FIGHT 



95 



lengthy explanation, but you will realise that if you 
intend to stay in the business and avoid expensive 
law suits it will be necessary for you to conform 
your methods with those of every honest exhibitor. 
You will find that by doing this the General Film 
Company will look after your interests to the very 
highest degree while if you do not care to treat 
their property with consideration, of course you 
will expect to have trouble with a concern the size 
of which is quite ample to crush you very quickly. 

Yours truly, 

Denver Film Exchange. 

Laemmle's observations on this sinister com- 
munication were characteristically to the point. 
And now the Trust began to experience really 
grave misgivings. If it was unpleasant to have the 
letter to the exhibitor of Binghamton, N. Y., sub- 
mitted to the eyes of inquisitive strangers, it was 
far more serious to be publicly associated with this 
one to the exhibitor of Great Bend, Kans. It was, 
when read in the cold light of publicity, an exceed- 
ingly ugly letter. The federal laws of the United 
States had certain very suggestive things to say 
on the subject of impeding trade by menaces. 
American sentiment was very willing to be qui- 
escent in the matter of nefarious Trusts, but once 
it was roused it could be savage. And, unless some- 
thing were done to stop his mouth, this fellow 
Laemmle looked perilously like rousing it. 

Indeed, the symptoms were already disturbing. 



96 



CARL LAEMMLE 



A fortnight after his publication of the Denver let- 
ter, Laemmle announced that "Old Gen. Flimco 
is not only the worst-managed but the worst-scared 
trust in America. Right now he has the worst case 
of panic-ache a trust ever suffered from." The pan- 
ic was not invention. The Denver Post had come 
out with an article headed: 

MOVING PICTURE AND FILM TRUST 

FACES PROBING 
ACTION TO BE STARTED SOON BY 
GOVERNMENT AND STATE OFFICIALS 
EVIDENCE IS OBTAINED 
EXTRACT FROM LETTER TO 
AN INDEPENDENT IN WHICH 
THREATS ARE MADE. 

All very alarmist, no doubt, but at the same time 
not a little alarming. 

In April of this same year, 19 10, Laemmle had 
celebrated the first anniversay of his independence 
by reviewing the events of a twelvemonth. In 
doing so he observed, "I have been the bull's-eye 
for a most villainous attack of vituperation, lying 
and abuse, all of which was done under cover and 
not in the open as I have conducted my fight." 
Both the charge and the claim were warranted. 
He had made his accusations, very searching ac- 
cusations, not only without the smallest regard for 



THE TRUST FIGHT 



97 



secrecy, but with a steady resolution that they 
should obtain the widest possible publicity. The 
Trust, full of black things in its heart, ventured on 
no public defence. It could only hope that this 
would be construed as an indication of dignified 
innocence. The hope was vain. Its silence was 
taken by an uncomfortably large number of 
people for what it was, a plain inability to say 
anything to its own credit. 

But if open rebuttal of Laemmle's charge was 
deemed to be impolitic, there were alternative 
methods of counter-attack. The most promising 
of these was to entangle Laemmle in litigation, 
and reduce him if possible to bankruptcy in the 
process. The Trust knew that on the merits of the 
quarrel it was not likely to obtain decisions in the 
courts, but it knew also that even a winning case 
could, by means of postponements and appeals, 
be made intolerably tedious and costly. Laemmle 
was known to be in consultation with two lawyers, 
one in Chicago and one in New York. Inspired by 
the news, the Trust issued retainers to a squad of 
seventeen. Ordinarily speaking, the society of 
seventeen lawyers might seem to be rather an em- 
barrassment than otherwise in the affairs of life, 
but this was no ordinary occasion. The intention 
was to demoralise Laemmle by letting loose about 
him a swarm of actions, with a view not to win- 
ning verdicts but to wearing down his stamina. 
He claimed to be bearing the brunt of Indepen- 



9 8 



CARL LAEMMLE 



dence; very well, he should learn how vexatious 
the brunt could be. 

It was a neat conception, with only one weak- 
ness, but that a vital one. From first to last the 
Trust made the mistake of under-estimating 
Laemmle's staying power. It was, perhaps, his 
most remarkable quality, so remarkable, in fact, 
as to amount in its kind to genius. Such energy of 
determination as brought Laemmle through his 
historic ordeal is rare in any case. When it ap- 
pears in industry, it is far more often than not 
found to be using unscrupulous means to unscru- 
pulous ends. Rare in itself, it is very much rarer 
when it beats through all opposition to a fixed 
mark, and in doing so sacrifices neither integrity 
nor self-respect. Laemmle in his fight with the 
Trust cut what to patrician eyes may seem queer 
capers; there was nothing studied or marmoreal 
in his bearing. The circumstances of his crusade 
were less those of a romantic tournament than of 
a street-brawl. It was rough-house, with bludgeons 
about, and coarse, thrusting speech. It may be a 
painful scene to fastidious nerves, but it is one in 
which Shakespeare would have delighted. 
Laemmle adopted and, indeed, often improvised 
a technique suited to the occasion. He laid about 
him, he barracked, he called names, he pulled pro- 
fane faces. He never lost his head, but he fought 
with a wild-cat fury. And when it was all over, 
and he had redeemed a dozen forlorn situations, 



THE TRUST FIGHT 



99 



he came out of it a generous, clean-hearted, un- 
spoilt gentleman. There was greatness of char- 
acter in that. 

This by way of parenthesis. The Trust was 
not interested in Laemmle's business morals; 
morals being little in its line. Ethical miscon- 
ceptions were, from its point of view, of no mat- 
ter, but it was gravely and at last mortally to its 
disadvantage that it also misconceived the man's 
fighting weight. It was almost a physical equation. 
Laemmle, champion of the "little fellows," had 
himself become known as "The Little Fellow" in 
the trade. It really was ridiculous for an out-size 
in Trusts to take serious notice of this figure of 
five-feet two inches. There is a legend that as a 
young man he once observed to a dancing partner 
that the floor was rough, when she replied, "How 
do you know — you haven't been on it all night." 
But many exhibitors, forming impressions from 
the fight that he was putting up, thought of him 
as six feet in his stockings ; one even made it eight. 

Early in 19 10, the English Bioscope journal il- 
luminated Trust mentality for its readers: 

Independent side is conspicuously weak in lead- 
ers, or men who know their own minds. What the 
Independent side wants is one or two strong men 
to pull them through their difficulties. Frankly these 
men are not apparent as yet. The Trust knows they 
have little to beat either in brains or in money, so 
that too much importance must not be attached to 



100 



CARL LAEMMLE 



any temporary defeats which the Trust may sus- 
tain. 

The Trust bias is clear ; but then the writer adds, 
darkly: 

If it [the Trust] is to be broken up, which is 
doubtful, it will be done by legislative means. 

Bioscope offers no explanation as to how the Trust 
was to be broken by legislation unless someone 
with brains could be found to direct and lead the 
attack. Since, it seems, his appearance was not an- 
ticipated, the fear of legislative correction might 
well be a remote one. Though if Bioscope and the 
Trust had but known it, the man was already 
there, and the legislation would come. 

But for the moment the Trust was preoccupied 
not with legislation but with litigation. The one 
was a displeasing but quite obscure possibility ; the 
other, a present succour. Satisfied that if ever the 
time came they could circumvent the dangers of 
the one, they now turned to the congenial task of 
breaking Laemmle's back with the burdens of the 
other. 

On February 4th, 19 10, the following an- 
nouncement appeared in the press: 

To-day in the United States Circuit Court in New 
York City, Richard Dyer, representing the Motion 
Picture Patents Company, applied for a continu- 
ance in their injunction suit against Carl Laemmle, 



THE TRUST FIGHT 



101 



and Independent Moving Pictures Company — 
Emerson Newell of New York, Edward Maher of 
Chicago, earnestly demanded a trial: but Judge 
Hand finally granted a continuance to the Motion 
Picture Combination for three weeks in order to 
give them an opportunity to prepare a defence to 
the claim of Mr. Laemmle that the Motion Picture 
Patents Company is an unlawful "conspiracy of 
monopolists" and violating the Sherman Anti-Trust 
Act. A large number of Independent manufacturers 
were present in court and gave Mr. Laemmle their 
warmest greetings and assurance of moral support 
in his determined fight for freedom of trade in the 
moving picture business. 

The "warmest greetings and assurance of moral 
support" were gratifying — very. But those "three 
weeks in order to give them an opportunity to pre- 
pare a defence" were ominous. The decision 
meant that impetuous ideas about vindicating the 
right, and putting oppressors in their place, were 
to be severely curbed by the law's delays. That 
suited the Trust exactly. It could stand the strain 
much longer than Laemmle. Or so it believed; 
nearly four years were taken to prove that it was 
mistaken. 



CHAPTER VII 



ANTI-TRUST 

The action of 19 10, in which year IMP became 
the principal unit of the Motion Picture Distrib- 
uting and Sales Company, hung about the courts 
until 1 9 12, when the name of the concern was 
changed to The Universal Film Manufacturing 
Company. Asked why he had sold IMP to the 
Universal, Laemmle replied: "Because I believe it 
is the best thing that can happen to promote 
strength and permanency to the Independent film 
movement. I believe if we had not taken the step 
the Independent ranks would have been unable to 
withstand the repeated assaults from within and 
without. . . . The object is to solidify all the In- 
dependents, the exhibitors, the exchanges, and the 
manufacturers." 

The earliest presidents of the Sales company 
were Laemmle, Charles Baumann, and Jules 
Brulatour, who had been supplying raw stock to 
the Independents, and who in 19 12 persuaded 
Eastman to sell in the open market. This was a 
concession of the first importance to Laemmle 
and his associates. Hitherto, on the mornings when 
delivery of Lumiere film was expected from the 

102 



ANTI-TRUST 



103 



Paris factory, they had gathered hungrily round 
Brulatour's New York office, waiting for famine 
rations of a trade staple. Now they could count on 
ample and regular consignments, received not as 
a precarious favour, but securely in the normal 
way of business. The moral effect of Eastman's 
action in selling to Independents was great, and its 
practical result was an immense improvement in 
the efficiency of Independent production. 

When Laemmle was elected President of the 
Sales Company, as it was known in brief, the 
Motion Picture News wrote: 

The honour was ungrudgingly given to the man 
who has proven himself to be the bulwark of the 
Independent movement. Had it not been for Carl 
Laemmle, very little progress would have been 
made in the Independent section. . . . He has been, 
in our opinion, the greatest thorn in the flesh of 
the Patents Company, and this rankles deep and 
sore. 

Laemmle was, indeed, by this time not only a very 
powerful but a very popular figure among his asso- 
ciates. In the earliest days of his moving-picture 
career, he was asked what sort of contract he de- 
manded from his customers. He replied that he 
demanded none. To rely merely upon a man's 
word was a method startling to a trade not great- 
ly given to confidence in the other fellow's good 
faith. But the method had told; there was not 



104 



CARL LAEMMLE 



now a man in his own party who did not believe 
him to be honourable, and not a man in the Trust 
who did not know him to be incorruptible. And 
even the enemy, in its rank and file, could some- 
times be inspired by the example of a chivalry that 
was unruffled in the heat of a desperate conflict. 
When Laemmle's Montreal office was burnt out 
in 19 io, two Trust companies in the town offered 
him accommodation while he was re-organising. 

At the headquarters of the Trust, however, there 
was no consent to such amenities. There the spirit 
was implacable; it was also unprincipled. Inde- 
pendence must be crushed. That was the ruling 
theme ; and Independence was now epitomised in 
Carl Laemmle. He was not only leading the re- 
volt: he was responsible for the weekly philippics 
that were peppering the Trust with derision and 
contempt. In 19 12, the Sales Company at length 
secured a judgment in the action above noted. 
Suggestions in the meantime had been conveyed to 
Laemmle, and to Cochrane, his most formidable 
ally. They might, it seemed, in certain eventuali- 
ties, be granted a license as Independents — a pros- 
pect of unique attractions. The insinuations were 
disregarded, and the last hopes of compromise 
were abandoned. It was, Laemmle desired the 
Trust to know, to be a fight to a finish. The Trust 
thereupon began to conduct itself in the manner 
proper to rogue elephants. 

The Sales Company, Carl Laemmle President, 



••GEN. FLIMCO'S LAST STAND" 




Old Flimmyboy. surrounded by Independent 

Indians, has about as much chance as a snowball in He*.des. 
Shot full of holes, punctured and perforated from peanut-head to pants, he Is 

miking one final rally and bluff by shooting threatening letters to exhibitors and publishing direful interview* 
in cities where he has "bought" exchanges. We are making arrangements with the artist now for the General's 
obsequies and buriaL While the band is mournfully playing 'Has Anybody Here Seen Kennedy 'over the grave, 
yon will be making arrangements to hook up with Old Doctor Laemmle who will cure you of all such' diseases 
as ""Repeaters," "Dropsy of the Film," "Rainstorms" and "Pip of the Cashbox " Send for Dr. Laemmle's loose- 
feat supplementary film list to-day. 

CARL LAEMMLE. President 

The Laemmle Film Service 

HEADQUARTERS: 196-198 Lake Street. CHICAGO 
MINNEAPOLIS PORTLAND OMAHA 

SALT LAKE CITY. EVANSVILLE 

The Biggeit ind Best Film Renter in the World. 



AN ANTI-TRUST ADVERTISEMENT 




ANTI-TRUST 



I0 5 



announced its first legal triumph with unfamiliar 
restraint: 

VICTORY! VICTORY! 

The Motion Picture Distributing and Sales Com- 
pany Wins Important Legal Decision. 

Judge Hand, of the United States District Court 
of the Southern District of New York, has just de- 
cided an important patent suit, brought by the 
Motion Picture Patents Company, known as the 
Trust, against the Independent Moving Pictures 
Company of America, for alleged infringement of 
the Latham Patent No. 707934. The Latham Patent 
No. 707934 claimed the continuous feed by means 
of sprocket and perforated film, also the loop or 
slack portion of film which supplies the inter- 
mittent feed. 

Judge Hand decided in favour of the Inde- 
pendent Moving Pictures Company by dismissing 
the Bill of Complaint on the ground of NON- 
INFRINGEMENT, WITH COSTS. 

Motion Picture Distributing and Sales Company, 
in East 14th Street, New York City. 

But elsewhere at the same moment, Laemmle im- 
proved the occasion in strains of choicest invective : 

GEN. FLIMCO'S LAST STAND. 

Old Flimco boy, surrounded by Independent In- 
dians, has about as much chance as a snowball in 
Hades. Shot full of holes, punctured and perforated 
from peanut-head to pants, he is making one final 
rally and bluff by shooting threatening letters to 
exhibitors . . . etc. 



106 CARL LAEMMLE 

Cochrane considered the verdict in this action to 
be the foundation of the campaign's ultimate suc- 
cess. But it had been a perilously near thing. "At 
one stage of the suit," wrote Cochrane, "C. L. was 
licked. He was up against the stone wall of patent 
laws, regulations, procedure and red tape." Once 
the Sales Company was at the point of defeat. 
Laemmle was given a day in which to produce evi- 
dence of prior use of perforations similar to those 
of the sprocket holes on films. Failing this the 
Trust would establish its claim to a basic patent. 
Laemmle and his lawyers were at a loss from 
which there seemed to be no hope of recovery. And 
then, at the last moment, somebody was inspired 
by the perforations on a roll of toilet-paper. The 
argument was taken into court, and upheld. 

The Trust itself was a vigorous and resourceful 
fighter, with an authority that yet was not the re- 
sult merely of aggressive qualities. It worked rest- 
lessly to improve the product of its own licensees, 
and insisted that square dealing should be prac- 
tised as between themselves. But the principles up- 
on which it was founded were not allowed to be 
open to discussion. For the Trust, abstract ethical 
theories had no fascination. Here was a practical 
organisation which assured a maximum of profit 
to the people fortunate enough to control it. Small 
traders, being men of no enterprise, needed, in 
their own interests, to be kept firmly under dis- 
cipline. In their own interests, and in those of a 



ANTI-TRUST 



107 



happy Trust, to which their contribution in the 
way of license fees, royalties, fines and other im- 
positions meant a matter of some millions annual- 
ly. Let everyone but acquiesce, and all would be 
well. Should anyone be so ill advised as to resist, he 
must be severely corrected, and still all would be 
well. It was one of those large conceptions by 
which the master minds of industry are sometimes 
irradiated. 

Finding that there was an unexpected amount 
of correction to be done, the Trust applied itself 
systematically to the task. It established a highly 
efficient intelligence department, distributing its 
agents secretly throughout the trade. If you were 
in the Trust and broke a Trust rule, you never 
knew what report might be sent in to headquarters 
by the other license-holder up the street. If this 
should be said to violate the principle of honour 
among trustlings, you had yourself to thank, since 
Trust rules were not made to be broken. If you 
were an Independent, you did not thereby escape 
vigilance. A few intractable distributors met clan- 
destinely in St. Louis to discuss their grievances. 
Every precaution had been taken to keep the oc- 
casion from outside knowledge; there seemed to 
be no possibility of leakage. In the midst of their 
conference they received a wire from the Trust in 
New York wishing them luck. 

It is hardly too much to say that the fight be- 
tween the Trust and Independents resolved itself 



io8 



CARL LAEMMLE 



into a fight between the Trust and Laemmle. The 
one had behind it almost unlimited capital re- 
sources, and the terrorist power of huge vested in- 
terests that held the trade in an economic vice. The 
other was supported by the confidence and by very 
little of the money of a somewhat ragged if loyal 
regiment. And if Laemmle was no fool, he cer- 
tainly had no fool to reckon with. 

The Trust was suspicious of Laemmle from the 
first. When certain Directors confidently declared 
that the opposition was not worth considering, 
they were warned by shrewder counsels to keep an 
eye on this volatile little Teuton. He was nothing 
to fear, but he was worth watching. Volatile Teu- 
tonism, bred to American citizenship in the rig- 
ours of the middle-west, suggested latent powers. 
As the Independent publicity grew in vehemence 
and effect, and IMP became active, it was increas- 
ingly clear that this intelligence had not been rated 
too high. The Trust stafT were even recommended 
to learn what they could from Laemmle's meth- 
ods, advice that flattered them. But the Trust, 
while recognising the intelligence, still was not 
afraid of it. Although Laemmle had become a 
nuisance, big Trusts do not get into a state about 
nuisances; they merely remove them. And so, 
Laemmle must be removed. 

As time went on, and Gen. Flimco showed 
signs of nervous disorder under repeated lashings, 
it was suspected that the process might take longer 



ANTI-TRUST 



109 



than had been supposed. In fact, Laemmle, in- 
fernally leagued with Cochrane, was beginning to 
make the Trust jumpy. The Trust resented that. 
It resented being compelled to bother about what 
these outlaws would say next. It pleased the Trust 
to call them outlaws ; but then the Trust was no- 
toriously careless in its specifications. Nevertheless, 
the Trust jumpy was by no means the Trust 
scared. It was necessary to be more condign than 
had been expected, that was all. 

In February, 19 10, was incorporated The Gen- 
eral Film Company. It was Laemmle's Gen. Flim- 
co. The Motion Pictures Patents Company re- 
mained in being, and these two bodies hencefor- 
ward represented the combined activities of the 
Trust. It was this combination that undertook 
Laemmle's effacement. 

It turned to its seventeen lawyers. They advised 
that the Flimco advertisements were malicious, 
and could be adjudicated as such in court. The 
Trust asked for nothing better than to take 
Laemmle into court as often as possible, but it was 
not going there on this particular suit. There was 
a sight too much truth in these lampoons ; it was 
taking no risk of being told by some court, insensi- 
ble of the respect due to big Trusts, that it was the 
truth. It instructed the seventeen lawyers to guess 
again. 

This time they did better. Patents: why not 
sink Laemmle in the morasses of patent law? The 



no 



CARL LAEMMLE 



Trust liked that. Injunction suits — let there be in- 
junction suits in large numbers, let them flock in 
from all quarters, let the federal courts and the 
state courts buzz with them. Scour the country 
for infringements; set spies on to every indepen- 
dent camera, projecting machine, reel of film, that 
could be found. Let actions breed and multiply, 
spread them over the widest possible area, drag 
them over the longest possible periods. Argue, 
temporise, postpone, appeal — let these be terms of 
their constant thought. 

The lawyers were charmed. Seldom had a rov- 
ing commission been so liberally given. They were 
to experience all the delights and rewards of sail- 
ing under the Jolly Roger, and none of its risks. 
They embarked for all points of the compass with 
unbounded zeal, to the refrain of seventeen men 
on a dead man's chest. To drop the metaphor, in 
the space of three years they brought two hundred 
and eighty-nine actions against the Sales Com- 
pany, that is to say, against Laemmle, in the courts, 
and when the issue was at last settled by the de- 
struction not of Laemmle but of the Trust, defen- 
dant costs had amounted to three hundred thou- 
sand dollars. 

To be involved in a law-suit is generally ac- 
knowledged to be a debilitating experience. What 
it may be like to be involved in law-suits over three 
years at the rate of a hundred or so a year is, I 
suppose, the peculiar privilege of Carl Laemmle 



ANTI-TRUST 



III 



among living men to know. As the record cannot 
have been approached before, and is not likely to 
be equalled in the future, we may take it as a 
classic. All remarkable feats of endurance are apt 
to follow natural law by dwindling in perspective, 
and it needs some effort even dimly to reconstruct 
the strain endured by Laemmle under an offen- 
sive of unexampled ferocity in its kind. The fig- 
ures are worth repeating: two hundred and eighty- 
nine actions in less than three years. Astonishing is 
a word very inadequate for his survival. The Trust 
was astonished when he survived the first score or 
so of suits; when the hundred mark was passed 
and Laemmle was still upstanding, astonishment 
gave place to alarm; and when two hundred and 
eighty-nine had not by one tremor relaxed the set 
of that now terrifying chin, the Trust lay down 
and took the count. 

In the meantime, many secondary devices were 
employed in discomfort of the outlaw. A rumour 
was circulated that he was going out of the picture 
business. He replied that far from going out he 
was daily getting deeper in — that, indeed, he now 
had three hundred people working for him. To- 
day there are something over six thousand on his 
weekly pay-roll. Spies abounded with an insatiable 
curiosity concerning his cameras, and even 
"strong-arm" methods were not disdained. 

The Trust had no scruples about molestation. 
Laemmle's people, his directors and players and 



112 



CARL LAEMMLE 



officials, could not move to and from the New 
York studios with safety. That is to say, they 
would not have been able to do so had not Laemm- 
le employed more and better auxiliaries of his 
own. They worked, as it were, on commission. For 
every Trust auxiliary who was induced to get to 
hell out of this, the rate was five dollars. Some- 
times the Patents gang got into the studios as 
workers. When they were detected by their op- 
posite numbers in the Laemmle service, battles 
would ensue that were fought across the city into 
Hell's Kitchen. It was all very deplorable. Gen- 
tlemen, we believe, do not do these things. And 
yet, Carl Laemmle remains inalienably a gentle- 
man. He objected to his employees being beaten 
up. He was not going to be put out of business by 
those methods. Being a scant five-foot, he could 
not do much in the pugilist line himself, and so, 
with characteristic efficiency, he enlisted a fancy 
of his own. It may be partiality, but I feel that his 
men in buckram must have been of a more at- 
tractive type than his adversary's. 

In the record of these events, a special tribute 
should be paid to one Tony Gaudio, chief camera- 
man of IMP, who, in the words of an annotator, 
"thought the sun rose and set on Laemmle." The 
Trust had a particular anxiety to be acquainted 
with the anatomy of Tony's cameras — he had a 
humble pair of them. An agent of the Trust called 
upon him. In the interests of science the agent 



ANTI-TRUST 



"3 



would very much like to possess photographs of 
the insides of Tony's cameras. Money was no ob- 
ject; he was an extremely rich scientist. What, for 
example, about ten thousand dollars for two photo- 
graphs? Ten thousand dollars was more money 
than Tony had ever heard of. And he told the 
Trust, whom he recognised at sight, to move on 
while it had breath to tell the tale. 

While the Trust was delivering its main attack, 
it neglected no minor tactic of aggression. As the 
quality of IMP releases improved, even licensed 
exhibitors began to demand them, and the Trust 
was forced to allow its exchanges some discretion. 
The veto, if not removed, was relaxed. But efforts 
were made to induce the combined exchanges of 
an area to give it practical effect by themselves re- 
fusing to supply IMP productions. "A few days 
ago," wrote Laemmle in one of his weekly bulle- 
tins, "several film exchanges in Pittsburgh formed 
an agreement for the purpose of 'killing the IMP 
Company.' The result was that they simultane- 
ously cancelled their standing orders for IMP 
films." He appealed to the exhibitors to support 
productions that "I firmly believe are the best in 
the world at this very moment." If the exchanges 
were refusing to supply them, then the exhibitor 
was being made to suffer "in order that your ex- 
change may wreak its petty spite upon me. If you 
are content to stand for this, well and good. But if 
you want IMP films, if you really believe that they 



ii4 



CARL LAEMMLE 



are the best money makers for you, then the thing 
for you to do is to trade with an exchange which 
will give you the films you demand. . . . You 
can even force my bitterest enemies to buy IMP 
films and furnish you with them regularly." And 
then, true to his policy of letting the public know 
the exact condition of his affairs, he printed a list 
of the exchanges, thirty-two of them, which at the 
time were taking all IMP productions. It was the 
kind of candour that was irresistible. 

In some of its methods, the Trust, infatuated 
with a sense of its own power and security, was 
beginning to move dangerously on to the far side 
of discretion. The Motion Picture News, which 
under the editorship of Alfred H. Saunders 
throughout the struggle supported Laemmle for 
no other reason than that it believed in his cause, 
came out with a story that must be given in its 
own words : 

For the second time in less than eight months the 
Independent Motion Picture Company of America 
has caught the Motion Picture Trust red-handed in 
the vilest sort of Trust warfare, namely: 

Carl Laemmle made an agreement with W. D. 
Boyce, publisher of the Chicago Blade and Satur- 
day Ledger, whereby Mr. Boyce delivered to the 
"IMP" Company all the negative of 10,000 feet 
taken during his 65,000 dollar expedition through 
Africa. 

A few days before the IMP released the film en- 



ANTI-TRUST 



"5 



titled "In Africa," Mr. A. M. Kennedy, Western 
representative of Motion Picture Patents Company, 
wrote the following letter (in part) to Mr. Boyce 
(in an endeavour to break a lawful contract). 

"Mr. Boyce: If you will break your contract with 
the IMP Company and succeed in enjoining that 
company from putting your African pictures on the 
market, we will pay you 2,500 dollars, and we will 
further agree to stand all expenses of the lawsuit 
and set our entire force of lawyers (seventeen — it 
was believed) at work putting the injunction into 
effect. 

"Motion Picture Patents Company. 
" (Signed) A. M. Kennedy, Western Representa- 
tive. 

They pleaded with him, begged and cajoled him, 
had his personal friends call on him and exert all 
their influences toward inducing him to break his 
contract. They offered him 6,500 dollars spot cash 
in a wild and desperate endeavour to change his 
mind. But Mr. Boyce said that a verbal contract 
with Carl Laemmle stood as staunchly with him as 
a written one. 

This was shocking, and its publication was a 
shock even to the Trust. The campaign of destruc- 
tion by legal suits was making not unsatisfactory 
progress. Laemmle, indeed, was putting up an un- 
expectedly stubborn resistance, but he was show- 
ing some signs of distress. He had himself been 
provoked into filing a suit against the Trust under 
an Act that offered a defendant relief from what 



n6 



CARL LAEMMLE 



was known as Multiplicity of Suits. Although 
the court gave him some momentary considera- 
tion, the seventeen lawyers were equal to seeing 
that it amounted to nothing. It was very reassuring 
to note these anxieties. The pace, clearly, was be- 
ginning to tell. No individual suit was of great 
consequence, and occasionally, as in Judge Hand's 
decision of 19 12, one of them might come to an 
unforeseen and inconvenient end. But cumula- 
tively they were driving Laemmle so hard that 
when a little later the cherished design of consum- 
mating them in an action of really serious propor- 
tions could be carried out, he would have neither 
energy nor resources left with which to save him- 
self in his extremity. At least, that is what the 
Trust kept on telling itself that it felt about it. 
It refused to entertain any suspicion that it might 
be mistaken, as it was. 

But it was aware of a faint uneasiness when this 
narrative about Mr. Boyce of Chicago was given 
to the world. The allegations were grave; also they 
were demonstrably true. The Trust, in conse- 
quence, at last began to ask itself questions, and 
not without reason. The time was approaching 
when it would find itself called upon to answer 
very ugly questions indeed; when it would be 
told by the United States in high court that in the 
interests of industrial decency it must get out. 



CHAPTER VIII 



VICTORY 

So far back as 1909, Independent criticism of the 
Trust had been noticed in Congress. In February 
of that year a motion had been passed in the 
House of Representatives at Washington, where- 
by it was 

Resolved that the Secretary of Commerce and 
Labour is requested to institute a thorough investi- 
gation immediately, of the so-called "combination" 
on the part of the manufacturers of motion picture 
machines and films thereof in the United States to 
control prices, with a view to discerning how far 
an agreement with the various manufacturers of 
such products operates to fix the price of motion 
picture machines and films produced in the United 
States, the causes of the ability of the manufacturers 
to combine, and the cost to the consumers and users 
renting from said so-called "moving picture com- 
bination" and with suggestions as to remedies: also 
with a view to criminally prosecuting parties, com- 
bined to control and manipulate the market and 
the prices of moving picture machines and films. 

That, as the Trust knew, was a good deal less for- 
midable than it sounds. The prescribed investiga- 
tion would, it might be assumed, drift to a peace- 

117 



n8 



CARL LAEMMLE 



fill end in departmental routine. Neither public 
feeling nor legislation against Trusts was at that 
moment as active as they were shortly to become 
under the presidency of William H. Taft. Enter- 
ing office on March 4th, 1909, in the following 
January he sent a message to Congress, declaring 
his hostility towards "all schemes to stifle compe- 
tition and raise prices." By that time the investi- 
gation ordered by the resolution of February, 
1909, had been in progress for nearly a year, and 
nothing had come of it. There was little reason to 
fear that anything would. Taft's pronouncement 
might momentarily disturb the dust that was 
doubtless settling on the departmental papers, but 
it was hardly more dangerous than that. In the 
result, the Trust was to enjoy its monopolistic 
privileges for a further three years without inter- 
ference. 

During those years the privileges were exercised 
with the utmost rigour. The licenses of over five 
hundred theatres convicted of having exhibited 
independent films were cancelled, and applications 
for a further hundred and fifty refused. The hard- 
ship of the small proprietor was alleviated by the 
increasing supply of IMP productions, but that 
was not within the Trust's intention, which was 
ruthlessly to break opposition. Had it not been for 
Laemmle's indefatigable and wholly unforeseen 
energy, hundreds of small men would have had to 
close down. As Taft's administration approached 



VICTORY 



119 



its end, it seemed likely that after all his term 
would not see any effective revival of Trust legis- 
lation. But in the summer of 19 12, Woodrow Wil- 
son, during his campaign as democratic candidate, 
re-opened the subject, asserting his belief in the 
then somewhat moribund doctrine that "a private 
monopoly is indefensible and intolerable." Indus- 
trial reform became a prominent electoral issue, 
and once again conspicuous to the official mind. 
Carl Laemmle and his associates saw their oppor- 
tunity, and seized it. Senators, Congressmen, po- 
litical journalists, campaign managers — anyone 
who had direct or indirect influence upon the ad- 
ministrative chiefs at Washington was lobbied, 
admonished, challenged. Laemmle's appeals could 
not be dismissed as expedients of self-interest. 
Everyone knew him to have his career and his 
fortune at stake, but everyone knew also that the 
question raised was one of the widest public con- 
cern. 

For above three years now Laemmle had spared 
nothing of himself in exposing what he fiercely 
believed to be a fraudulent conspiracy against an 
industry to which he had devoted himself. For it 
really was a devotion. Laemmle wanted to make 
money and he wanted the delights of success; but 
he also was one of the very few men in the business 
who had a genuine feeling for motion-pictures. 
He liked them personally, he believed not only 
in their commercial but in their artistic and edu- 



120 



CARL LAEMMLE 



cational possibilities, and although not a direc- 
tor himself he took delight in seeing fine and sin- 
cere workmanship in his studios for its own sake. 
His stand against the Trust was definitely a con- 
fession of faith. It could have been nothing else. 
Submission to the Trust would at any time have 
enriched him at his own valuation. But he believed 
that if the Trust were not destroyed, the future of 
his cherished industry would be obstructionist, 
unintelligent, and dishonourable. The fear to this 
extent may be said to have been groundless, that 
if Laemmle had not broken the Trust, someone 
else would. In the nature of things, being what 
it was, it could not survive. But the fear was 
Laemmle's inspiration, and he was the instrument 
by which the inevitable was achieved. 

We have seen the odds against which he had 
conducted his three years' crusade. They had, by 
any common reckoning, been insupportable, and 
he had supported them. Now, when he went 
about prophesying in the name of Woodrow Wil- 
son's declaration, the recollection of his long re- 
iterated charges gathered to one ringing impact 
on men's minds. The sense of realisation com- 
municated itself to Washington. At last the al- 
most impossible but unconquerable hope was to 
be realised. On August 15th, 19 12, the United 
States of America filed a petition against the Mo- 
tion Pictures Patents Company and the General 



VICTORY 



121 



Film Company, demanding their dissolution as 
corrupt and unlawful associations. 

There had long been rumours that the govern- 
ment was preparing to take action. Other Trusts 
had been in difficulties, those controlling shoe- 
machines and kindling wood, for example. But 
the film Trust went confidently forward until the 
blow fell. For years Laemmle had been crying on 
his top notes "I'll hit you!" "I'll hit you!" "I'll 
hit you!" — and now the Trust unaccountably 
felt as though it had been trailed on a dark night 
and bludgeoned from behind. Yet not unaccount- 
ably, since big bullies are apt to be blockheads 
into the bargain. 

The government brief was an impressive docu- 
ment. There were no signs of haste in its prepa- 
ration, but it was prepared to grind exceeding 
small. With such diffidence as becomes a layman 
under the spell of legal prose, it may be sum- 
marised as follows. The Trust affected the film 
industry in all its branches. It had been formed 
in the latter part of 1908 (a month or two before 
the announcements at the Imperial Hotel), adopt- 
ing uniform business methods and non-competi- 
tive prices. Hitherto the market had been open. 
The conspiracy had imposed upon commerce the 
following disabilities: 

(1) The Trust manufacturers, that is to say 
practically all manufacturers then operating in the 



122 



CARL LAEMMLE 



United States, agree to supply their products ex- 
clusively to confederate exchanges. The list of 
these could be enlarged only by consent of the 
combine. 

(2) A corresponding list of theatres was drawn 
up. No exchange could deal with any theatre 
not included therein. 

(3) All prices from all manufacturers to all ex- 
changes must be the same. 

(4) No new manufacturers could deal with 
existing exchanges without the consent of the 
combine. 

(5) Penalties were stipulated and enforced. 
Any exchange dealing with an unlicensed manu- 
facturer, and any exhibitor dealing with an un- 
licensed exchange, could be fined or suspended 
at the discretion of the Trust. 

(6) All ofTenders suffering the latter penalty 
were named on a black-list circulated to the trade. 
To deal with any one of these meant inclusion on 
the same list. 

(7) A fee of two dollars weekly was exacted 
from all exhibitors. This was designated as a 
royalty on projecting machines. But these in fact 
had in the great majority of cases been purchased 
without any such liability. In default of this pay- 
ment, the supply of films was withdrawn. 

(8) The Trust had entered into an agreement 
with the Eastman Kodak Company, whereby the 
then only available supply of raw stock in the 



VICTORY 



123 



United States should be distributed only to manu- 
facturers within the combine. 

(9) [This must be given verbatim.] Instead 
of selling films outright as had been the custom in 
the trade preceding the formation of the combina- 
tion, manufacturers adopted a uniform method 
of leasing the films in order that, by writs of re- 
plevin [replevin: defined by Chambers as an 
action "to recover goods destrained upon giving 
a pledge or security to try the right to them at 
law"] that might recover possession of the same, 
if the exchangeman or exhibitor violated any re- 
strictions imposed by the combination. Hundreds 
of replevin suits have been brought as a means of 
terrorising exchanges and exhibitors and compell- 
ing them to observe the rules against distributing 
or displaying independent pictures. 

(N.B. — the ominous tone in "terrorising"; N.B. 
also the implication of "independent" pictures.) 

(10) In its good time, the Trust formed its own 
distributing exchanges, known as the General 
Film Company. It became the sole distributing 
agency of the defendants. [A very displeasing 
word that, "defendants."] This had been accom- 
plished by the purchase, at the Trust's price, of 
nearly all independent exchanges. When an ex- 
change thought the price inadequate, it was 
starved of supplies, and forced to go out of busi- 
ness. In case the court might be interested in 



124 



CARL LAEMMLE 



figures, a hundred and sixteen exchanges had been 
handling Trust products in 1909; of these, in 
19 1 2, one exchange, not specified, was still carry- 
ing on. 

(11) The regulations of the Trust had been, 
and still were, enforced with despotic power. 

Thus the preamble. These activities, obviously, 
were "unlawful under many decisions of the Su- 
preme Court." It remained to consider the de- 
fence. This, it seems, was that the acquisition of 
patent rights legalised acts that would otherwise 
have been unlawful. We — the United States of 
America, maintain on the contrary: 

(1) That Patent laws could not take prece- 
dence of the Sherman Act against oppression of 
commerce. 

(2) That motion-picture film was not, by any 
strict interpretation of the law, a patented com- 
modity. And even if the Trust could prove mo- 
nopolistic rights in a certain brand of film, it 
could claim no right to withhold its licenses from 
producers using a brand unpatented — [i.e. East- 
man v. Lumiere]. Again, in any case, the Sher- 
man Act rendered all such arbitrary measures 
illegal. 

In short, the Sherman Act transcended Patent 
law. Proceeding to more generalised submissions, 
the United States brief maintained that by Con- 
gressional mandate "the flow of trade in the chan- 
nels of Interstate Commerce should remain free 



VICTORY 



125 



and natural," and that any violation of this prin- 
ciple was illegal. Further, that the two defendant 
companies were guilty in considered terms of such 
interference. Further, again, that the "so-called" 
license arrangements were likewise illegal, and 
should be forbidden. Although, to reduce the 
case to its elements, it would be unnecessary to 
forbid anything if the United States were sup- 
ported in the rational plea that this corrupt or- 
ganisation should be dissolved. In conclusion of 
this intermediate section of the brief, the atten- 
tion of the court was respectfully directed to 
twelve rulings in the affairs of the Standard Oil 
Company and the Tobacco Corporations. Finally, 
the validity of most of the alleged patents pleaded 
by the Trust was seriously disputed. Before 1908, 
nobody had considered the film industry worth 
bothering about. Its material had been traded at 
trifling costs and with no reservations. A prece- 
dent had thereby been constituted. Edison had 
attempted to prove his claim to governing patent 
rights, and had failed. The menace of Sherman, 
in short, was over all these pretensions of the 
Trust. 

The best war-story tells us that General Per- 
shing, newly arrived in France, halted at the head 
of his staff to salute a conspicuous statue with 
"Lafayette, we are here." Later scepticism dis- 
credits the incident. In the same way I am pre- 
pared to hear that a lady-mayoress of New York 



126 



CARL LAEMMLE 



never paid the celebrated compliment, "Queen, 
you've said a mouthful." But there can be no 
doubt that the United States Attorney General 
had on the occasion under record said a very con- 
siderable mouthful indeed. Here was a complete 
and dramatic revolution of events. Since 1909 
the Trust had been hounding Laemmle to de- 
struction. He had, it is true, behaved in a manner 
that ill became a quarry marked for the kill, but 
that nevertheless was his destined role. And now, 
suddenly, the Trust found that it was itself the 
quarry, with Laemmle implacably in pursuit. For 
there could be no doubt about it; as the Attorney 
General unfolded the case for the prosecution, the 
voice behind that damning and inescapable in- 
dictment was the voice of Laemmle. 

The first hearing of the case was held on Jan- 
uary 8th, 19 13, Edwin P. Grosvenor, special as- 
sistant to the Attorney General, appearing for 
the United States. On January 15th, the first wit- 
nesses were heard behind closed doors at the 
Hotel McAlpin, New York. The Trust had se- 
cured a federal order that the evidence should be 
taken in camera. A move was immediately made 
in Congress to have this decree rescinded, and on 
March 3rd, his last day in office, President Taft 
signed a bill providing that all testimony in cases 
brought under anti-trust law must be given in 
public. And so the world was to hear in open 
court what the film Trust had to say for itself. 



VICTORY 



I2 7 



In the course of the investigation a hundred and 
twenty witnesses were called, and three thousand 
six hundred pages of testimony taken. It was not 
until the middle of April, 19 14, twenty months 
after the suit had been filed, that the hearings 
were closed. By that time it was clear that the 
revelations, inexorable as they were tedious, had 
damaged the Trust beyond repair. The truth, 
obscured through interminable delays by the 
smoke-screen of seventeen lawyers, had at last 
been painfully disclosed, and a very ill-featured 
truth it proved to be. The evidence taken, a fur- 
ther eighteen months were to pass before the 
Court handed down its final judgment. Assured 
though the result might seem, it was for Laemmle 
a period of prolonged suspense. Surely, after all 
that, but one verdict was possible? And yet, seven- 
teen lawyers never resting, the caprices of human 
reason, the fallibilities and loop-holes of the law — 
who knew what even now might happen? All the 
auguries were fair ; but if after all the issue should 
betray the promise? It could never be re-opened. 
If the Trust could survive this ordeal, it would 
henceforth be invulnerable, and the effort that 
had been so gallantly endured through nearly 
five years, could not permanently withstand this 
monstrous weight of combined interest. The en- 
terprise and the achievements of Independence 
had been possible only in the conviction that the 
Trust would ultimately be destroyed. So long as 



128 



CARL LAEMMLE 



that faith held, no difficulties were insuperable. 
But a Trust firmly established by legal sanction 
would be another matter altogether. The inspira- 
tion of the free men would wither, and their 
energy, becoming aimless, wither also. The final 
challenge of Independence, represented by 
Laemmle, had now been delivered. If it succeeded, 
the future was his ; if it failed, he would know his 
effort to be exhausted and he would either dwindle 
into the Trust or out of the business. It is small 
wonder that, with even an outside chance against 
him, the eighteen-month interval between the 
closing of the Court and the announcement of 
its decision, was one of acute anxiety, calling up 
the last reserves of his fortitude. 

At length the long deferred deliverance came, 
and it was unconditional. On October 15th, 19 15, 
the United States government ordered the Film 
Trust to discontinue all unlawful practices. Since 
the entire organisation was founded on activities 
that were themselves defined as unlawful, the 
order in effect meant the dissolution of the Trust 
into its constituent units, each one of which, if it 
remained in operation, must do so without privi- 
lege in a free and open market. The monopolistic 
power of the Trust was broken, and without it 
the Trust ceased to be. Anticipating this end, the 
monopolists had made prudent use of the law's 
delay. In abolishing the Trust as such, the Court 
ordered among other things that all the two dol- 



VICTORY 



129 



lar fees paid under duress should be returned to 
the defrauded exhibitors. The government, with 
a view to making the order effective, sought to at- 
tach the bank account of the combine. But the 
Patents Company and Gen. Filmco had gone 
silently away, leaving behind them closed doors 
and empty offices. The fortunes that had been 
made by exploiting an industry slid furtively into 
the backwaters of sundry private accounts. No 
compensation for wrongs done was recoverable. 
The Trust had to be written off as a bad debtor, 
bad to the core. But it was exterminated. When 
at an earlier date the Trust had begun to suffer 
serious inroads on its business through Independ- 
ent competition, one of its lawyers had said — 
"Laemmle is the man to whom, more than any 
other, is due the large damage inflicted on the 
Motion Pictures Patents Company." 

And now, when the finding of the Court was 
known, one of the Trust leaders made a generous 
admission in defeat: "My hat's off to Carl 
Laemmle. There's no use denying that the man 
is the keenest fighter we've had to contend with, 
and that his Filmco advertisements have hurt us 
more than any other one thing." 

News of the judgment was brought by a mes- 
senger to Laemmle as he was crossing the street. 
Passers-by were mildly astonished to see a small 
gentleman in his early middle-age making strange 
demonstrations in the middle of a net-work of 



130 



CARL LAEMMLE 



car-tracks. He was, in fact, behaving rather like 
an intoxicated small gentleman. He was cheering 
gently to himself, and performing the evolutions 
of a jig, heedless of approaching cars. He cer- 
tainly must be inebriated ; or perhaps not feeling 
very well. Sympathetic hands led him to the secur- 
ity of the side-walk. Would the messenger kindly 
say that again, very slowly and clearly? "The 
Trust is ordered — !" Nineteen-nine to nineteen- 
fifteen. He had done it. Against inconceivable 
odds, he had done it. Why not a little song and 
dance in the street if he liked? Just once more, 
please. Quite. I understand. "People — " what a 
spree it would be to tell all those people — "The 
Trust is bust." 

In the moment of his triumph Laemmle re- 
membered all that Robert Cochrane had done to 
make it possible. Never once had that co-opera- 
tion failed. And now the whole weary business 
was through. It was a great ending, but it had 
come none too soon. Laemmle could look back 
on it in the knowledge that not only had he won, 
but that he had won a dirty fight with clean 
hands. Nevertheless, in the elation of a success so 
splendid, he was conscious of unutterable relief. 
Breaking-point, he now knew, had been nearer 
than ever in the heat of conflict he had allowed 
himself to realise. In after days he said that the 
wealth of Ford and Rockefeller could not induce 
him to go through those five years again. 



CHAPTER IX 



IMP 

The strain of uninterrupted attack had, in- 
deed, been enormous. There were frequent oc- 
casions when Laemmle could have been blamed 
by nobody if he had refused to go on with what 
must often have seemed a hopelessly unequal 
contest. It is doubtful whether the thought ever 
entered his head, but even his buoyant courage 
must sometimes have been sorely tried. 

And, during those years, not only was he en- 
gaged in an attack that demanded a sustained 
concentration of energy, he was the executive 
head of a young and rapidly expanding produc- 
ing firm, in the success of which lay the only 
hope of destroying the Trust. Good management 
of the concern known successively as IMP and 
Universal was an essential part of the anti-Trust 
campaign, but it was a part only. It was a full- 
time job, but while doing it Laemmle could never 
for a day relax his vigilance in other directions. 
For offence or defence alike he and his Allies in 
the Sales Company, firms such as Rex and Nestor, 
and men such as Herbert Miles and J. V. Ward, 

131 



132 



CARL LAEMMLE 



had constantly to be prepared. Every movement 
of the Trust had to be watched. If it was threat- 
ening, forces had to be deployed to meet it; if it 
was unguarded, it had to be put to immediate 
advantage. Laemmle, that is to say, had simul- 
taneously to attend to the organisation of a pro- 
ducing company and the disorganisation of a 
Trust, either of which occupations would have 
been ample employment for any man. 

Further, his work as an Independent producer 
was carried on in a stifling atmosphere of sus- 
picion, and, as we have seen, hampered by tactics 
of hooliganism. What would in any case have 
been an exacting task was embarrassed at every 
turn by the conditions of its undertaking. Not 
only was it exceedingly difficult to come by the 
necessary apparatus of the trade, it was equally 
difficult to induce players to take the risk of cut- 
ting loose from what was supposed to be Trust 
protection. In the early stages of IMP production, 
19 10, Laemmle wanted to engage Costello, then 
an idol of the screen. An emissary called on the 
favourite, who was scrubbing a horse in the 
barn. No; he was afraid that it would be im- 
possible for Mr. Laemmle to secure his services, 
since the Vitagraph people were paying him a 
prohibitive salary, namely seventy-five dollars a 
week. The agent, he learnt, was authorised to 
offer twice that sum. Costello stopped whistling, 
and stared incredulously at the caller. He was as- 



IMP 



133 



sured that the offer was a firm one. In that case, 
he should like a short time for consideration. A 
few days later he notified Laemmle that he must 
decline the proposal, the Trust having informed 
him that IMP was in a very shaky condition. 
Laemmle retorted by offering to deposit several 
weeks' salary in the bank on the hundred and 
fifty dollar basis. Costello would really like that 
— also he would like to work for IMP — but, well, 
on the whole he was afraid that the security 
wasn't good enough. The incident was one of 
many like it. 

Nevertheless, the firm advanced steadily in the 
quality of its product and in its appeal to the 
public. In June, 19 10, it was announced in the 
press that IMP had leased a "lot" in New York 
City, covering fifteen thousand square feet of 
space at the corner of 105th Street and Columbus 
Avenue. It was, as the Trust noted, the largest 
acquisition of land made to date by any motion- 
picture company in the city. It was in Novem- 
ber of the same year that Laemmle himself moved 
from Chicago to New York, leaving Robert Coch- 
rane in charge of the campaign from the middle- 
west. Cochrane followed a year or so later. About 
this time, too, as the double pressure of IMP and 
Trust activities increased, Laemmle sold his Film 
Service. Nine exchanges had been opened; in 
Chicago, 1906; Evansville, Memphis, and Oma- 
ha, 1907; Minneapolis, Portland, Oregon, Salt 



134 



CARL LAEMMLE 



Lake City, Montreal, and Winnepeg, 1908. Of 
these, at the time of the sale, Chicago, Minneapo- 
lis, and Omaha were offered, with the addition 
of Des Moines, either separately or as a group. 
The announcement in The I triplet, the journal of 
IMP, was characteristic of its writer. "I have lived 
ten years in the past five, trying to give attention 
to the IMP and to my exchanges" — he was speak- 
ing of the period since he opened the first in 
Chicago. It was the simple confession, not of a 
tired man, but of one who was finding the pace 
pretty hot. He proceeded : 



Imp has grown to such world-wide importance 
that it is a tremendous problem in itself — a vast 
business with endless ramifications. The Imp spends 
eight to twelve thousand dollars per wee\ in 
America alone. I can't spend that money to best 
advantage if my time is divided between the Imp 
and my exchanges. Whoever buys the Laemmle 
Film Service exchanges will have exactly the same 
opportunities to make money that I have had. The 
Imp has never favoured the Laemmle exchanges 
and never will, no matter who owns them. I have 
jealously kept my promise, made when I organised 
the Imp company, that the Imp would be managed 
without fear or favour. I have kept the two con- 
cerns divorced absolutely, though I've given part 
of my time to each. If you buy the Laemmle ex- 
changes you buy a solid, substantial, profitable busi- 
ness — nothing intangible, nothing unsafe or un- 
certain. 



IMP 



135 



He was not prepared to sacrifice the business, 
but he would sell it at a figure that would give the 
purchaser a handsome profit on his investment. 
Each branch was prosperous, and each managed 
by men who had survived the strict processes of 
Laemmle's selection. And then, with a solicitude 
that in twenty-five years has never failed to mark 
his contact with his employees: 

The new owners of my exchanges could do no 
better than continue these men in office, provided 
the men in question are willing. 

When Laemmle was told of the Trust leader's 
assertion that the Flimco advertisements had done 
more damage to the combine than anything else, 
he replied, "I'm glad to hear that they admit it; 
but let me tell you one thing. All the Flimco ads 
in the world would not make exhibitors stick to 
the Independent cause if we were not turning out 
the kind of films they want. We work hard to 
win exhibitors to the Independent cause, but we 
work ten times harder to keep them. . . ." Here 
was no subtlety or fine-spun idealism, but a plain 
matter of fact sense of reality. For Laemmle, the 
film business was a business. The difference be- 
tween him and a great many other men of whom 
this was true, was that he earnestly wanted to 
make it a clean business, a useful business, a dig- 
nified business. He wanted to see it become a 



136 



CARL LAEMMLE 



great public service, and he believed that it could 
do so. Whatever his artistic aspirations and in- 
sight may or may not have been, this was an 
honourable and far from a common ideal. It is 
often said of very rich men that the accumulation 
of money in itself means nothing to them, and it 
is generally untrue. But it has always been strictly 
true of Carl Laemmle. He had to wait a long 
time — until he was forty — before making any. 
Since then he has at one time and another made 
a great deal. But he would at any time cheerfully 
have gone back to zero rather than do anything 
that would curb the enterprise, interfere with the 
freedom, or demoralise the tone of the industry 
that he regarded as a mission. To regard motion- 
pictures as a mission may strike many people as 
an odd state of mind, but there it is. Not that 
there was anything exclusive in Laemmle's vision. 
On the contrary, his ambition was to bring not 
only the average man into his fold, but also the 
uneducated, the illiterate, the dull. In so far as 
his bid was for the largest possible popular sup- 
port, he was, manifestly enough, no lonely apostle 
of creative light. I am not sure that in the long 
run the faith that he then professed has not been 
proved beyond his foresight. There are indications 
to-day that the screen after all may raise the 
standard of popular entertainment, at least, as 
nothing else has done or could do. For some of 
these indications Laemmle himself is responsible 



IMP 



137 



through his most recent work as a producer. It 
is pleasant to think of so tough and spirited a 
career conquering yet other worlds towards its 
close. 

But in those early Independent days, it would 
be idle to pretend that the screen ever rose above 
elementary artistic significance. The distinction 
between Laemmle and most of his rivals was not 
that he was making it highly distinguished by 
the best standards — those of literature and the 
"legitimate" stage for example — but that he was 
honestly trying to make it as good as he could. To 
do that he was prepared to take any risk and make 
any sacrifice. But he remained a realist, and knew 
that nothing could be done without a firm grasp 
of the enterprise as a business. In that passage 
quoted about winning and keeping exhibitors, 
the conclusion really ran, "We work ten times 
harder to keep them by producing films that 
will help them make money." This was no more 
mercenary than it was high-falutin'. It was the 
commonsense of a man who happened to be 
putting it to uncommonly attractive uses. 

Business, somebody has said, is business; it cer- 
tainly was very strenuously that in those days 
along the film rout from Chicago to New York. 
One had to be hardy, alert, shrewd, to stand the 
racket at all; to stand it at once honourably and 
successfully, one had to be a match for tigers and 
monkeys, while continuing to invite the soul. It 



i38 



CARL LAEMMLE 



was a searching test, and Laemmle was neither 
defeated nor defiled. 

Under his friendly discipline, enthusiasm in 
the studio soon showed results. "Imp films will 
compare favourably with the product of any 
manufacturing concern, licensed or unlicensed, in 
story, plot, photography and acting." This opinion 
of an impartial critic was reflected in the demand 
from the theatres. Laemmle in his advertisements 
affected no modesty in boosting his wares, but he 
toiled incessantly by day and schemed by night to 
give his pictures the quality that he cried. His 
adventures by the way were manifold. 

The mechanical outfit in those days was as 
temperamental as a leading lady in these. One of 
the early directors (Messrs. Donald Ogden Stuart 
and A. P. Herbert will like to know that his name 
was Bill Haddock), gives us a glimpse of the 
consequent emergencies: 

I remember one picture that was shot at the rate 
of about two scenes a day, the routine was some- 
thing like this; rehearse a scene and take it; rehearse 
the next and start to take that, BANG ! Camera out 
of order and down town it would go to a machine 
shop for repairs. Rehearse the balance of the scenes 
to be made in that set, and then shoot craps or play- 
poker, until the camera came back, and that was 
usually not until late afternoon or evening, then 
take one more shot and go home. Just ditto this for 
the balance of the picture and you have the story. 



IMP 



139 



At the Cleveland National Convention of the 
Exchange League in 191 1, the Patents Company 
warned the Keith circuit that if during the con- 
vention they allowed any Independent film to be 
shown at the Hippodrome in that city, the Cleve- 
land and all other Keith licenses would be can- 
celled. The threat was too powerful to be ignored, 
and it meant a boycott of Sales Company produc- 
tions at a time when potential customers were 
assembled in force. Protests were useless ; the Hip- 
podrome simply dare not disobey Trust orders. 
The Independents moored a raft on the Ohio 
River, nailed a screen up on it, and gave nightly 
performances. Free accommodation for the audi- 
ence was provided on the river front. The enter- 
prise became the talk of the Convention. 

If Laemmle failed to impress Costello with his 
prospects, he had better luck elsewhere. One of 
his first successes was the acquisition of Florence 
Lawrence, then famous as "The Biograph Girl." 
This was in 1909, and in the same year an up- 
standing young man of good looks, visiting the 
studio, was persuaded to put on grease paint and 
try a small part as a screen test. This proving 
satisfactory, he was invited to join the company. 
William De Mille, also impressed by the novice's 
possibilities, stepped in with an ofTer of a hun- 
dred dollars a week in the theatre from which 
he had not yet extended his activities to the screen, 
but with no guarantee as to its duration. Laemmle 



I 4° 



CARL LAEMMLE 



offered seventy-five, but on a fifty-two week con- 
tract, and King Baggot signed up as the first IMP 
leading man. He and Florence Lawrence were 
the mainstay of the firm's productions until the 
lady, unaccountably disposed towards a quiet life 
and much to the astonishment of her employers, 
retired at the end of the year into the country 
to cultivate roses. In 19 13, however, Laemmle, in- 
cited by repeated appeals from the more articu- 
late section of "fans," induced her to return to 
the screen. 

In 19 10, Florence Lawrence was the heroine of 
one of the early moving-picture sensations. A 
rumour was released from ill-disposed quarters 
that she had been killed in St. Louis. It was a 
poor, half-witted ruse, intended in some nebulous 
way to unsetde the Independent public. The New 
York press made a feature of the report which 
merely had to be left alone to discredit itself, since 
Miss Lawrence was at the moment showing her 
best form in the IMP studio. But Laemmle saw 
a much more advantageous way of dealing with 
the canard than that. He took up the resounding 
note of New York publicity, and sent out urgent 
announcements that Florence Lawrence was be- 
ing escorted by King Baggot on the next train to 
St. Louis, to satisfy a city that she was not dead 
at all. It was a master-stroke. It was the first time 
that the film public had been given an oppor- 
tunity of seeing their favourites in person. They 



IMP 



141 



were now to see two of them in what Laemmle 
recognised to be highly favourable emotional 
circumstances. The stars were received at the sta- 
tion by a crowd in a stampede of excitement, and 
St. Louis became a riot. They were booked to 
make personal appearances at two theatres in the 
town. The enthusiasm of Miss Lawrence's ad- 
mirers did its best to confirm the rumour which 
she had come to dispel. On her way to the first 
theatre, they demonstrated their affection by tear- 
ing the buttons from her coat, the trimmings 
from her hat, and the hat from her head. She 
fainted, and, on being rescued, refused to pro- 
ceed without an adequate body-guard. A body- 
guard was provided, very willing, but not ade- 
quate. The personal appearance in St. Louis was 
a roaring success, and Miss Lawrence returned to 
New York still alive. The incident, doubtless, 
inclined her thoughts to the cultivation of roses. 

The St. Louis exploit was symptomatic of a 
policy that owed its inception to Laemmle's acute 
sense of popular mentality. The Trust producers, 
confident that what they had for sale must be 
bought, looked upon their players as employees 
about whom it was necessary to make no public 
fuss. Short of actual anonymity, the early film- 
actors were indulged only in the most secluded 
personal reputations. This submission of the indi- 
vidual to the whole may be a laudable practice in 
itself; I remember well the enthusiasm with 



142 



CARL LAEMMLE 



which, as a member of the Pilgrim Players at Bir- 
mingham, I allowed my name to be omitted from 
the programme and induced other actors to do the 
same. But then, our audience was composed of 
very highly cultivated people, usually about eight- 
een of them. When you are aiming at an audience 
of eighteen millions, you have to be rather less 
exclusive in your methods, and Laemmle realised 
from the first, as hardly any of his rivals did, 
that the creation of "stars" was a necessary part 
of the business. When the Biograph people 
heralded Florence Lawrence as "The Biograph 
Girl," he knew that they were on the right tack. 
And he was quick to better the instruction. 

It was the settled policy of IMP from the first 
to find players worth advertisement, and to give 
them all they could ask of it. When Laemmle 
sent Florence Lawrence and King Baggot down 
to St. Louis, obviously he was not in the least 
concerned about a rumour that could not do him 
the slightest harm. But he saw a first rate oppor- 
tunity of encouraging the personal interest of 
some thousands of people in his two leading 
players. These things to-day are the common- 
place — perhaps too common — of showmanship 
technique, but twenty years ago they were revo- 
lutionary. 

The manager of the Oshkosh clothing store 
was showing in this new business that he pos- 
sessed that very rare combination of qualities, 



IMP 



143 



imagination and a sense of reality. At the age of 
forty-two he found himself dealing with tempera- 
mental, highly sensitive, impulsive people, of a 
kind that hitherto had never approached his orbit. 
By some far-rooted instinct, he understood them 
at sight. He handled them shrewdly and gener- 
ously, treated them as colleagues, recognised their 
merits, respected their opinions, and was tolerant 
of their little ways. He was indisputably the boss, 
and he did no bossing. In return they adored 
him, gave him all that their talents could give, 
and stood devotedly behind him in his fight for 
independence. 

Alongside this human, flexible conception of 
studio life, went always a meticulous precision in 
administrative detail. If you had dealings with 
Laemmle, you knew exactly where you were. 
Goods were delivered, accounts paid, appoint- 
ments kept scrupulously to time. There are not 
a few film companies who twenty years after- 
wards might profit by Laemmle's example in 
those experimental days. You did not say one 
thing this week and another thing next; you did 
not allow two of your agents simultaneously to put 
up different versions of the same proposal; and 
you did not encourage hopes that you had no in- 
tention of gratifying. Laemmle, in short, was an 
astute man of business with vision and a con- 
science. It is a formidable equipment. At the 
end of its first year's trading IMP had netted 



144 



CARL LAEMMLE 



fifty thousand dollars, and Laemmle was the 
most popular man in the trade. 

King Baggot's rise to fame with Laemmle was 
one of the romances of early moving-picture his- 
tory. Within six months of his first engagement 
with IMP he had become a national favourite. 
He directed most of his own pictures, and wrote 
many of them. In these days of million or two 
million dollar films, it is illuminating to look back 
to 19 10, when Baggot — and there were others 
like him — would undertake, if put to it, to write 
and produce a story in a single day. They may 
not always have been very good stories. But they 
are not always very good now. 

Baggot's salary had been raised from seventy- 
five to a hundred dollars a week, when a notable 
circumstance brought it further and unexpected 
increment. Florence Lawrence having departed 
to her roses, it became necessary to find another 
leading lady. One of the first films that Laemmle 
had handled as an exhibitor had been a Biograph 
production heavily charged with pathos. A poor 
blind fiddler, returning to his lamentable attic 
with an empty cup, was followed up the broken 
stairs by a little boy who had a few pence from 
the sale of newspapers. The poor blind man's need 
being manifestly so much greater than his, the 
little boy poured his pence into the accusing cup, 
and, it is to be presumed, stole silently away. It 
doesn't sound as though it was much of a picture, 



IMP 



145 



though I may be wrong about that. But it re- 
tains this interest; the little boy was really a little 
girl, and her name was Mary Pickford. 

Someone, so tradition asserts, had given her 
a boy's suit as a talisman for success in her first 
important part. That was in 1907. Now in 19 10, 
she was still with Biograph, not encouraged by 
the Trust in personal aspirations, but famous at 
a hundred dollars a week as Little Mary. She was 
already known for the gifts that were later to 
secure for her one of the most remarkable repu- 
tations of this or any other age. Suddenly, the 
general press was roused, and the Trust press in- 
furiated, by the announcement that Miss Pick- 
ford had forsaken Biograph for Carl Laemmle's 
IMP. The salary was to be a hundred and seventy- 
five dollars a week — seventy-five above the Bio- 
graph figure, and Laemmle further undertook 
to let the public know in future that Little Mary 
had a second name. It was to put King Baggot 
at his ease concerning this new star in the IMP 
firmament that Laemmle raised his hundred dol- 
lars to a hundred and twenty-five, and shortly 
afterwards to a hundred and fifty. "Little Mary" 
was too celebrated to be allowed wholly to drop 
out of public notice, but thenceforth Miss Mary 
Pickford began to appear in "copy" sanctioned by 
the IMP publicity bureau. 

In 1927, on the occasion of Carl Laemmle's 
sixtieth birthday, Miss Pickford rose at a banquet 



146 



CARL LAEMMLE 



given in his honour to add her tribute to the many 
that made the evening memorable. She looked 
back to the beginnings of a craft to which she 
herself had brought so much renown. "Those 
were strange days," she said, adding, on a note of 
charming humour, "and we were strange folks." 
There had been some dark, even dangerous times, 
but now, when "our beloved screen" had come to 
maturity and great power, those difficult years in 
retrospect seemed happy and pleasant. She could 
at this hour recall many names and faces, some 
now forgotten, some famous. "But" — and the 
words are worth noting since, directed by such 
emotions, the truth has a way of superseding mere 
compliment — "But more distinctly than all others, 
there remains the memory of the man in whose 
honour this banquet is held to-night. You will 
remember him no less clearly, I am sure. He gave 
most of us opportunities, and all of us valuable 
assistance at a time when we needed it sorely." 
There is no rhetoric here. As he heard this lady 
speak, Carl Laemmle's mind must have made 
a rapid count of the years — Laupheim, Ichen- 
hausen, the New York drug-store and its drunken 
proprietor, the newspaper barrow in Chicago sub- 
urbs, slaughter-houses, Oshkosh two-pieces at 
nine-ninety-eight, nickelodeons, Flimco, furtive 
cameras in a New York studio, Federal Court 
judgments, The Biograph Girl and King Baggot 
and Little Mary, and then on to Universal City. 



IMP 



147 



To any spots that showed weakness in his or- 
ganisation, Laemmle gave immediate attention; 
no wastage of effort escaped him. When IMP was 
making three releases weekly, he noticed that the 
Thursday sales fell short of those for Monday and 
Saturday. A full page advertisement appeared at 
once, directing the special notice of exhibitors to 
the very high quality of Thursday's films. Let 
them look through their order list and see what 
beauties they had missed on Thursdays. Was it 
by any chance that some of them felt that they 
could afford two IMP films a week only? If so, he 
begged to inform them that they were "saving at 
the spigot and wasting at the bung." Let them 
broaden their business views, and see the result 
for themselves. Parsimony meant ruin. Not to 
have IMP films, and all IMP films, Thursdays 
included, was to shut out of their theatres the 
very people they most needed to attract, the 
people who knew a good film when they 
saw it, the people who were going to keep the 
motion-picture business alive. Don't stint — "don't 
make the Indian on every penny screech before 
you let go of it." 

By no means every picture made was released, 
but Laemmle seized the chance of a little salvage 
from the discarded products. 

$45,000 Gone to Hell 

So ran the headline. Yes, IMP "has $45,000 



148 



CARL LAEMMLE 



worth of negatives which never have been and 
never will be released. Why? Because they don't 
measure up to the Imp standard. ... In some of 
the films the photography is defective; in others 
the plot is not so strong as it looked when in 
manuscript form; in others there are other defects. 
At any rate they are not good enough to bear the 
name of Imp." Further, readers were informed, 
IMP could save two thousand dollars a week for 
the next year "by letting out some of its high- 
salaried performers, producers, and experts in 
other departments and employing cheaper people 
instead. The Imp could save untold thousands 
every month by using cheaper raw-stock, cheaper 
equipment cheaper everything. But quality would 
suffer." 

The italics here are retained, but in quoting 
Laemmle's advertisements I have not attempted 
to reproduce the typistic ingenuity with which 
he and Cochrane caught the attention of their 
readers. Capitals, italics, graduations of font, para- 
graphic form, all were orchestrated weekly with 
exacting care. The effect may not always have 
been chaste, but it was never dull. To turn over 
the pages of any moving picture journal of that 
period, is to realise that, in this, Laemmle scored 
heavily all the time over almost every con- 
temporary advertiser. The usual column is feature- 
less, heavy, congested. Laemmle and Cochrane 
may have been rather shocking to the culture of 



IMP 



I 49 



Bostonian parlours, but they sparkled. When you 
came to that page, you paused upon it. More- 
over, what you read had a way of being, with 
a rasping, spontaneous idiom that precisely suited 
the occasion, uncommonly good prose. Anti- 
Trust and IMP advertisements were on the same 
hand; two examples from the former illustrate 
its cunning: 

And that's not all. Hundreds of exhibitors are re- 
fusing to pay a cent of license money. Yet they still 
get all the films they want. Therefore if you're pay- 
ing real money for a license that isn't worth the 
paper it is printed on, you can see why you are a 
full cousin to that gentleman known as Mr. E. Z. 
[American Zee] Mark. Don't be milked! Get your 
dander up! Turn independent. Advertise your inde- 
pendence to the people of your own town and 
they'll back you up just the way the Independents 
all over the West are backing me up. 

And: 

But conditions are changed. As soon as moving 
picture exhibitors were told exactly what old Gen. 
Flimco was up to and how to spoil his little plans, 
they jumped on his calloused hide with both feet 
and much earnestness. Old Gen. Flimco began to 
lose flesh and prestige and cash. He is now a sorry 
shadow of his former self. All this merely goes to 
show what you exhibitors can do when you work 
in unison and harmony. You have the power to 
control this business. Use your power. Drive out 
every rascal now in the game. Clean up! 



150 



CARL LAEMMLE 



If a primary function of style is to bring your 
meaning to the mark, here is the work of no 
poor stylist. 

In the announcement about the dollars in hell, 
we may observe another example of Laemmle's 
policy of taking the public into his confidence. 
He knew that intimacies of this kind would 
please large numbers of people who had no per- 
sonal contacts with great affairs. It was the sort 
of thing that would make small-town conversa- 
tion — "I see the IMP concern has thrown forty- 
five thousand dollars' worth of film into the dis- 
card. Not up to their standard. Have you seen 
— ?" It is detail that tells. In any first-rate work 
the detail is good; if the detail is careless, in- 
definite, spongy, the work, however promising or 
even effective its general conception may be, will 
remain second-rate at best. Laemmle, as one of 
the constructive leaders of film independence, 
was a nailer for detail. He was at it all the time, 
inquisitive, shrewd, far-sighted. As he became 
rich and powerful, associating with celebrities 
and courted by success, he was quick to realise 
the scope of the new world that he was conquer- 
ing, but he never forgot that he knew all about 
errand-boys, book-keepers, bottle-washers and 
small store salesmen from New York via Chicago 
to Oshkosh, Wis. 

If the early days of motion pictures were re- 
latively no less prolific of rubbish than the later, 



IMP 



Laemmle made his pioneer contribution to a 
more intelligent state of things. "Hiawatha" was 
followed by "The Death of Minnehaha," and 
among other releases of twenty years ago were 
"Ivanhoe," de Maupassant's "Piece of String" and 
"The Scarlet Letter," the last named being ad- 
vertised with the recommendation — "Get a copy 
of the book from the Public Library, and you 
will better understand the story." Classics have 
suffered uses on the film that would hardly dare 
such a challenge. Also, Laemmle was topograph- 
ically enterprising. He sent a company of six- 
teen to the Hawaiian Islands for three months, 
to explore a landscape hitherto unknown to the 
screen. With the production of Paul }. Rainey's 
African Hunt Film, the originator of its kind, 
Laemmle passed into the sphere of high-cost pro- 
duction. A hundred thousand feet of film were 
used, two hundred and fifty thousand dollars 
spent — both unprecedented figures — it was the 
first moving picture to be noticed by responsible 
dramatic critics, it staggered all records by run- 
ning fifteen months in New York and being 
played simultaneously in seven other American 
cities, it was the first film to be shown in a "legiti- 
mate" London theatre, and it made a very tidy 
fortune. I regret to say that one of the aforesaid 
critics, then in the sixtieth year of his career, 
wrote of it: 



152 



CARL LAEMMLE 



Nothing has ever thrilled me as this, the finest of 
all dramas of terra natura. This marvellous play and 
spectacle produced and directed by the One and 
Living God, Who, to show His versatility, built the 
stage, painted the scenery, and created the character 
types to enact the roles. 

Nevertheless, the film, shown in 19 12, was 
an enormous success. Six years before, when 
Laemmle had come back from Oshkosh to Chi- 
cago, with his mind brooding on the five and 
ten cent store, his brother Joseph had taken him 
to see his first nickelodeon. He bought a hand- 
ful of beans, and stood outside the theatre to 
count how many people went in during a given 
time. The result was promising, and encouraged 
his thoughts to higher things. And now, six years 
later, it would have taken a sturdy harvest of 
beans to count the people going in to see his own 
productions. 



CHAPTER X 



TOWARD UNIVERSAL 

Early in 191 1, a curious adventure had 
befallen Laemmle and his IMP company. The 
storm of litigation raised by the Trust had for 
the moment succeeded in making independent 
production in the States virtually impossible. In- 
junctions, patent blockades, and terrorism, while 
leaving Laemmle's determination unshaken, did 
effect a temporary paralysis of his activities. He 
was confident that the pressure would relax, but 
in the meantime the necessity of maintaining his 
scheduled rate of releases was being hampered 
in a critical degree by New York conditions. 
Laemmle has a favourite little apothegm, which 
he likes to have about the place, always ready to 
his call. It is a simple, unassuming affair, like a 
small spelling exercise, but for five and twenty 
years it has had a cherished and oracular sig- 
nificance for him. It reads, "It Can Be Done." 
Taking stock now of the IMP situation in New 
York, it was clear that something had to be done. 

The director-in-chief of productions at the time 
was C. A. Willatt, known more familiarly as 

153 



i54 



CARL LAEMMLE 



Doc. He had been employed by Vitagraph; fur- 
ther, he had married the daughter of that com- 
pany's president. William T. Rock was a very 
powerful person, and when his son-in-law ap- 
proached Laemmle with a view of joining the 
IMP organisation, the champion of Independence 
was on his very efficient guard. An interview, 
however, removed all suspicion. It seemed that 
even in the Trust one might differ from one's 
father-in-law, and William Rock at that. Laemmle 
was convinced that Willatt really was minded for 
revolt, and engaged him. His judgment was not 
at fault. Doc. proved to be a valuable ally. 

It was he who at the present crisis was given 
charge of the expedition that was to carry IMP 
through its difficulties. Calling the company to- 
gether, he informed them of Laemmle' s decision 
that producing operations must be transferred to 
Cuba, beyond the zone of Trust authority. Any 
member, naturally, was at liberty to call off his 
contract if he or she chose. All told, they num- 
bered seventy-two, and there was not one resigna- 
tion. What Carl Laemmle said was all right for 
them. Seventy-two strong they sailed from New 
York, Tom Ince, Owen Moore, Jack Pickford, 
King Baggot and Mary Pickford among them. 
Tony Gaudio was there, too, with his cameras. 

Within two days of their arrival in Cuba, work 
was in full swing. But they had not yet wholly 
escaped from the long arm of Trust obstruction. 



TOWARD UNIVERSAL 



155 



A mysterious individual appeared, announcing 
that he had patent rights to the IMP title in the 
dominions of Cuba. He might be disposed to 
part with it for a suitable consideration, suitable 
meaning something in five figures. It seemed, 
incidentally, that he owned the patent rights for 
Cuba in the trade names of several other well- 
known American products. He was confidently 
expecting the arrival of representatives from 
firms celebrated for typewriters, for pianos, for 
sewing machines, when he would allow them also 
to go about their Cuban business at a price. It 
grieved him to be a hindrance to so many charm- 
ing people as had now arrived from New York, 
but he like others had to take his opportunities. 

The plague of it was that he really had good 
documentary evidence in support of his mani- 
festly fraudulent claim. Cochrane was on the 
spot by the quickest overland route, told the im- 
postor to go to the devil, the company to carry 
on, and filed a suit in the Cuban courts to cover 
emergencies. The suit was successful, the in- 
genious defendant being informed that he hadn't 
any patents at all, which he is said to have found 
very disappointing. 

Other inconveniences remained. The com- 
munal camp, though not equipped with modern 
comforts, was very good fun, for a time at least. 
The commissariat was fair to good. And then, 
one day, it was not so good, not even fair. Certain 



156 



CARL LAEMMLE 



dishes of a very unpalatable nature appeared. 
Complaints to the Cuban chef were sullenly re- 
ceived. He was a very expert chef, he would like 
them to understand, with high-class testimonials, 
and if they didn't like his confections, they could 
get someone else. This, as he knew, would not be 
easy; and still the unsavoury messes came to 
table. Signs of panic appeared — but, surely, even 
the Trust would not dare anything so monstrous. 
A strict investigation was ordered. An enterpris- 
ing property boy, forseeing a general dearth of 
commodities as time went on, had brought a five 
pound tin of cold cream from New York, design- 
ing illicit profits from the company when the 
shortage came. On arrival, thinking that the 
Cuban climate might not be good for it, he had 
surreptitiously placed it in the cold storage larder, 
where the cook had taken it for an unfamiliar 
brand of imported lard. 

There was no difficulty in shipping negatives to 
New York as they were made, but as the supply 
of raw stock began to run out, the problem of 
renewing it was serious. It was one thing to wait 
on Lumiere's doorstep in New York and carry 
away under your arm what ration you could 
get; it was quite another to negotiate it through 
all the hazards between New York and Cuba. It 
was then that Willatt heard that his wife was 
about to make a trip to the island with her father. 
The president of Vitagraph would have courtesy 



TOWARD UNIVERSAL 



157 



of the ports. Doc. suggested to his wife that she 
should fill a large trunk with raw stock, to be 
procured according to instructions, enclosed. 
The trunk would come through unmolested 
with the family luggage. Mrs. Willatt, forsaking 
all and cleaving only, did as her husband asked, 
and the situation was relieved. William T. Rock 
in Cuba was distant about his son-in-law. Young 
rebels were not lightly to be endured. One came 
to Cuba for health, not to give countenance to 
scamps who had bolted to that fellow Laemmle. 
He, William T. Rock, was one of the elect now 
in process of breaking the said Laemmle into little 
pieces. And in the meantime, if he had but known 
it, he was conveying blessed raw-stock to a 
Laemmle panting for celluloid as desperately as 
ever hart for ice-water. The sequel, in William 
Rock's domestic economy, is not divulged. 

Ingenuous looking travellers with early Kodaks 
lingered curiously by the wayside of IMP activi- 
ties. What surprising luck to come upon great 
film stars in action. Might they be allowed — ? 
Just a little snap, such a souvenir to take back to 
the home town. And then Tony Gaudio observed 
that one of the tourists was taking pictures not of 
Miss Pickford or King Baggot, but of his, Tony 
Gaudio's, camera. Before one could say Jack, the 
stranger was off down the road, back into the 
town, showing remarkable paces, and with the 
American consul, talking volubly of injunctions. 



i 5 8 



CARL LAEMMLE 



He could produce the evidence in ten minutes — he 
had it in his Kodak. His luck was out. The con- 
sul didn't take to him, and he had heard un- 
attractive reports about a Trust in New York. He 
refused to sign the accommodating papers, and the 
Kodak abruptly lost interest in Cuban landscape. 

Another enquiring soul met with ruder treat- 
ment. While King Baggot was directing a picture, 
the men of the company laid off to dig a deep 
trench, required for the scene. The ground was 
tough and the weather hot. A stranger with in- 
nocent eyes loitered to watch proceedings. King 
Baggot, on reflection, was not so sure that the 
eyes were so innocent. He opened conversation, 
which the stranger encountered somewhat shyly. 
Baggot said Trust, then he said detective, then he 
said dirty spy. Having no coat on, there was no 
necessity to remove it, and he invited the dirty spy 
to prepare for a thrashing that would teach him 
not to interfere with honest people trying to 
make an honest living. Baggot was known to a 
million fans for his physical attractions, but at that 
moment the deputy of the Trust hated the sight 
of him. Deputy explained that he didn't want to 
fight, that he was no sort of hand at lighting. 
Baggot retorted that he was not required to fight, 
but to get a hiding. Deputy pleaded that he 
couldn't bear a hiding, that it wasn't in his con- 
tract, that he was a poor fish anyway. Baggot 
relented. Terms were offered; the eavesdropper 



TOWARD UNIVERSAL 



159 



could either be beaten, or dig the ditch. He dug 
the ditch, and returned to New York with an un- 
favourable report on the manners of Mr. 
Laemmle's employees. 

The first Cuban IMP film was released on 
February 20th, 191 1. Three days later followed 
"Artful Kate," the first of a "Little Mary" series 
made on the island. It was a romantic comedy, 
with a Cuban-American love affair as its theme, 
and the press considered Miss Pickford to be "at 
her best as a Spanish beauty." The Cuban produc- 
tions found a ready market, and at the time were 
the sensation of the trade. It was an unusually 
severe winter in New York, and the new pictures, 
set in the tropical scenes of Havana, were a very 
opportune novelty. Laemmle's expedient for es- 
caping Trust tactics was resulting in added pres- 
tige and gratifying profits. But as the months 
went on, the strain began to tell on the company. 
The very exacting work on which they were en- 
gaged was made harder by the Cuban climate. 
The adventure lost its freshness, the discomforts 
that had been amusing became tiresome, and 
nerves began to suffer. Two of the leading men 
fell out with each other, and expected their wives 
to be parties to the feud. The ladies, who had 
no quarrel, acquiesced for the sake of appear- 
ances, and met clandestinely in the dusk to de- 
plore the caprices of leading husbands. At the 
end of nine months everybody had had enough 



1 



i6o 



CARL LAEMMLE 



of it, and, the situation at home having eased, the 
company returned to New York. Miss Pickford 
told Laemmle that she needed a rest, and that 
afterwards she would like to work again with 
D. W. Griffith, who had directed her earlier pic- 
tures. Laemmle knew the loss to be a serious one, 
and her contract showed a valuable term still un- 
expired. With no hesitation he tore it up, and in 
perfect good humour parted with the brightest 
of his stars. The concession was never forgotten. 
Little Mary went on to the establishment of her 
career as Mary Pickford, and it was to Laemmle 
that she owed the emancipation. 

We have now reviewed the methods of 
Laemmle's double strategy against the Trust; the 
Flimco exposure and the Independent produc- 
tions. The Trust passes out of our story, which 
now moves on towards Universal City, and fif- 
teen years of progress by no means free of 
anxieties, but with the great issue cleared and a 
vastly expanding field of activity opening up 
month by month. IMP, founded in 1909, be- 
came a unit of the Sales Company in 19 10, and 
the Universal in 1912. Laemmle was successively 
president of the three companies. Before the open- 
ing of Universal City, he was concerned in a 
managerial crisis of some moment. It has been 
recorded at length in Mr. Terry Ramsaye's "Mil- 
lion and One Nights." 

In 1 9 13, George Loane Tucker was a young 



TOWARD UNIVERSAL 



161 



member of Laemmle's stock company. The one- 
reel programme pictures that were of necessity 
the staple product of the studio were neither in- 
spired nor inspiring. They amounted for the 
most part, to little more than tedious hack-work. 
Tucker suddenly conceived the idea of breaking 
loose into something urgent and spectacular. He 
decided to make an exposure on an impressive 
scale of the White Slave traffic. He spoke about it 
to some of his colleagues. They were enthusiastic. 
One of them had a father who had been a police 
outfitter, with an inside knowledge of the New 
York underworld. It was estimated that five thou- 
sand dollars would be needed to make the picture, 
a sum representing the cost of about half a dozen 
ordinary one-reelers. 

Tucker laid the scheme before Laemmle, ask- 
ing for permission to go ahead. Laemmle, open as 
he was to new ideaSj^ at that moment was dis- 
tracted by a legion of old ones that were agitating 
the critical stages of the Trust enquiry. Tucker 
took discouraging news back to the studio. The 
Universal chief was not prepared just now to dis- 
cuss an experimental outlay of five thousand 
dollars with a young man of no credentials. 
Thereupon, Tucker induced four of his friends 
in the company to join him in a private specula- 
tion. They were Herbert Brenon, King Baggot, 
Jack Cohn, then film cutter and editor of Univer- 
sal releases and to-day Vice-President of Columbia 



162 



CARL LAEMMLE 



Pictures, and Bob Daly. The five conspirators 
were to be responsible for a thousand dollars 
apiece. When the picture was made, it was to 
be shown to Laemmle, and if he turned it down 
they undertook to face the loss. 

The next thing was to make it. Luckily for 
them, the IMP studio manager was just then sent 
to Europe on business, and his deputy, called in 
from another studio, already had more work on 
his hands than he liked. His supervision was per- 
functory, and during his frequent absences the 
young men produced "Traffic in Souls," a scene 
at a time in the short intervals afforded by their 
regular work. In four weeks it was finished, ten 
reels long, and with no titles. At this point of 
the proceedings Tucker went to England, leav- 
ing Jack Cohn in possession of the ten unedited 
reels. Cohn kept the treasure secretly in the com- 
pany safe, and worked on it at night. In a month 
he had cut it to six reels, and written the titles. 
He took it down to the head offices at 1600 Broad- 
way. 

Laemmle agreed to look at it. It was taken to 
the projection room, and the chief with some of 
his lieutenants followed reluctantly to look at 
"Tucker's Folly." But that day, the spasmodic 
course of the enquiry had been thrown into one of 
its periodic convulsions, and no sooner were the 
Universal authorities seated in the theatre than 
they fell into a heated debate on policy. The film 



TOWARD UNIVERSAL 



163 



clicked its unheeded way across the screen, and 
when silence indicated that it was over, the audi- 
ence left, still in voluble dispute on more impor- 
tant things. As a private view it was one hundred 
per cent wash out. 

Cohn brooded through the evening into the 
night on his failure. Then he was inspired by 
despair. He rose, dressed, and went to Laemmle's 
house. He would not go away without an inter- 
view. Laemmle came down — Cohn, breathing 
hard but standing well up to his job, said: "You 
didn't see that picture. You were talking business 
all the time. You can't do two things at once — 
anyway, not those two things. Give it a chance." 

The appeal was not likely to be lost on 
Laemmle. There was in it an echo too familiar, 
falling from some distant Chicago counting- 
house. He agreed to see the picture the next day. 
He saw it, and was convinced. But serious prac- 
tical difficulties were in the way of its distribu- 
tion. Laemmle himself might be willing to take 
a risk, but what about his fellow-directors? For 
the risk was a big one. The few long pictures 
hitherto made had been shown in legitimate 
theatres or opera-houses. A six-reeler in a motion 
picture theatre was unheard of, and the launching 
of "Traffic in Souls" would mean heavy capital in- 
vestment. Were these considerations to be swept 
aside by a bunch of high-spirited youngsters? 
However, Laemmle liked the enthusiasm, and, 



164 



CARL LAEMMLE 



now he had seen it, he liked the picture. He was 
prepared to take a long shot. He promised Cohn 
he would do what he could, and summoned a 
board-meeting to announce his proposal to back 
the venture. 

The board met. It seemed that the president 
had committed them. There were voices of dis- 
approval. Investigation showed that the cost al- 
ready amounted to five thousand seven hundred 
dollars. Were they expected to throw money about 
to that tune merely to humour a novice's high- 
flown fancy? If the president had undertaken to 
do this, he had exceeded his powers. With all due 
respect, and so on — but they were here to make 
money, not to squander it. "Squander" was a 
word that stung, and Laemmle was on his feet, 
telling them heatedly that if that was it he would 
buy the picture himself, and pay the company ten 
thousand dollars for it. That settled it. If it was 
worth ten thousand to him, it was worth it to 
them. By order of the board, "Traffic in Souls" 
was to be placed upon the market. 

The Shuberts suggested their theatre system as 
being the most promising means of distribution. 
They saw the picture, were impressed by it, and 
bought a third interest for thirty-three thousand 
dollars. Complainants on the board looked 
sheepish when they met the president. Within a 
few weeks the picture was being shown simultane- 



TOWARD UNIVERSAL 



l6 5 



ously at twenty-eight theatres in the New York 
area alone. Its gross takings amounted to just 
under a hundred thousand dollars, and Laemmle 
was booked for Universal City. 

There had been other incidents of a breezy 
nature in Universal affairs. At a meeting of stock- 
holders, it was known that Laemmle was negoti 
ating for available holdings that would give hirr. 
control of the corporation. The transaction was to 
be confirmed at the meeting. A director, who 
wished to keep Laemmle out of this dominating 
position, placed confederates in the street below 
the board room window, and an advance party in 
the corridors outside. At a given signal, the room 
was invaded, the company registers and seal were 
seized and thrown out of the window to the men 
below, who bolted with them. The meeting broke 
up in confusion, and court aid had to be enlisted 
in recovery of the books. 

Laemmle secured his stock. The man who was 
so exacting in his attention to detail, was seldom 
denied in his larger designs. He was too resource- 
ful for that. He was prolific in ideas, ready always 
to try them out, and as ready to discard them if 
they proved useless or impracticable. In 1909 he 
opened a music publishing business in Chicago, 
ran it unsuccessfully for eighteen months, found 
that it was taking time from his other work, and 
sold it. It is on record that within six weeks of 



i66 



CARL LAEMMLE 



opening, he had his songs on sale at every depart- 
ment store in the city, but the experiment cost him 
fifty thousand dollars. 

A more remarkable venture was his effort in 
1908 to bring talking pictures on to the market. 
In that year, as an exchangeman, he advertised 
Greenbaum's Synchroscope in these words: 

The greatest improvement in the moving-picture 
business. If you believe I am a good prophet, order 
a Synchroscope now, for I tell you that talking pic- 
tures are the coming craze in all America. 

He went beyond advertising the invention; he 
used it. He rented the Majestic Theatre at Evans- 
ville, Indiana, during the summer months when 
it was closed as a vaudeville house, and there he 
used the new machine, of which he held the 
American agency from its German manufacturers. 
Twenty years afterwards, in 1929, an old employee 
wrote in a letter : 

I think you will remember that we installed a 
talking picture outfit in the Majestic and played 
to packed houses all summer during the warm 
weather. 

I have never seen anything about this in the trade 
papers so I thought I would refresh your memory. 
. . . You made the attachment on a Powers 
machine; we had such stars as Caruso, Madame 
Sembrich, lulian Eltinge . . . and the entertain- 
ment was wonderful. 



TOWARD UNIVERSAL 



167 



In another advertisement at this time, Laemmle 
asserted: "Sometime you'll have to have a Syn- 
chroscope in order to stay in business." The some- 
time was a long time coming: but here it is. 

Film production in the early days was a tough, 
rough business, and it is not necessary to exalt Carl 
Laemmle as a purist among vandals. Neverthe- 
less, he was through the smother of it all a definite 
influence for good. He had a natural distaste for 
nastiness, and more than once took strong meas- 
ures to drive it from the screen. His pictures in 
general may not have shown a subtler sense of 
moral values than was common, but he had no 
use for this kind of thing, which actually appeared 
in print: 

Wanted. 

Stag Films suitable for smokers, clubs, etc., the 
same advertisement concluding: 

Wanted: Pathe Passion Play (Hand Coloured). 
Must be in first class condition. 

Let us add, that, far from contemplating art 
by the more exclusive standards of Bloomsbury 
or Greenwich Village, Laemmle sometimes suf- 
fered it to serve the ends of a social zeal engen- 
dered in the purlieus of New York and Chicago 
poverty. He was, in fact, by no means above a bit 
of propaganda. In the campaign, for example, to 
improve labour conditions and forbid the employ- 
ment of children in sweating shops, he preached 



i68 



CARL LAEMMLE 



unashamedly through the medium of his studios. 

When IMP joined the Sales Company in 19 10, 
between five and six thousand exhibitors, taking 
heart from Laemmle's exposures of the Trust, had 
turned independent. This offered a greatly wid- 
ened scope to independent production, and IMP 
by that time was but one of several units forming 
the new corporation. Laemmle's election to the 
presidency of the whole marked him as the most 
commanding figure in the trade outside the Trust. 
The position was consolidated when later, in 19 12, 
the Sales Company, enlarging its organisation, be- 
came the Universal, and again put Laemmle in 
control. A meeting of producers was called on this 
latter occasion to decide upon a new name. After 
some hours of fruitless discussion, Laemmle, who 
had been standing by the window, looking down 
on to the Broadway traffic, exclaimed: "Gentle- 
men, I have it. Universal. The Universal Pictures 
Corporation." He enlarged on the virtues of the 
name — as, what could be more universal than this 
entertainment for the masses that they were pro- 
ducing, and were going to produce in ever ex- 
panding volume? The idea went, and was 
adopted. 

Walking away from the meeting, Cochrane 
congratulated him on so happy an inspiration. 
Had he had it long in mind? No, Laemmle, to 
confess the truth, had been too busy to give it a 
thought. Indeed, he was thinking of other things 



TOWARD UNIVERSAL 



169 



while looking out of the window, when he saw on 
the top of a passing delivery wagon the name 
"Universal Pipe Fittings." That van ought to be 
in the museum of Universal City, if they could 
afford museums in such places. 



CHAPTER XI 

UNIVERSAL CITY 

This chapter shall be opened with a brief his- 
tory in figures. In 191 1, the population of Holly- 
wood was 5,000. In 1914 it was 12,000; in 1919, 
35,000; in 1921, 60,000; in 1925, 130,000; in 
1927, 145,000; and to-day it is 160,000. 

One of the first Californian moving-picture 
studios was opened by the Nestor Company in 
191 1. It was situated at Sunset and Gower, and in 
October of the same year it was bought by 
Laemmle. His first visit to the site from New York 
was discouraging. It rained as it does in Seattle or 
London, and the visibility for picture-making 
seemed extremely poor. Moreover, on the tour of 
inspection Laemmle's car got stuck in the mud, 
and had to be pushed out by Jumbo, the elephant, 
who was in the neighbourhood playing a part at 
the time. 

In 19 1 2, Laemmle opened a second Californian 
studio, at Edendale, outside Los Angeles. Early in 
19 14, just before the hearings in the Government 
Anti-Trust suit were closed, he had conceived the 
idea of Universal City, and in March he bought 

170 



UNIVERSAL CITY 



171 



two hundred and thirty acres of land in the San 
Fernando valley, ten miles out of Los Angeles on 
the El Camino Real, the highway that originally 
connected the missions from San Diego to San 
Francisco. It was a scene familiarly associated in 
his mind with the Indian stories of his boyhood. 
He paid a hundred and sixty-five thousand dol- 
lars for the site, and this time it was generally 
considered by friends and competitors alike that 
he had lost his senses. It was whispered that the 
strain of the Trust fight had at last gone to the 
poor fellow's head. A beautiful valley, no doubt, 
but who wanted to spend a hundred and sixty- 
five thousand dollars on scenery? It is easy to-day 
to laugh at the critics, but when Laemmle made 
his purchase it needed an uncommonly long vis- 
ion to make anything of a man who was building 
for the future on that scale. So long, indeed, that 
nobody but Laemmle had it. And the building be- 
gan at once. The purchase was completed in 
March, 19 14, the first ground was broken in 
October, and in the following March Universal 
City was opened. 

The conception, the building, the opening, and 
the subsequent development of the city, constitute 
the romantic triumph of a curiously complex 
mind. In the ten years of his American appren- 
ticeship, when Laemmle could get no further than 
petty clerking, he realised almost daily how des- 
perately easy it was for a man to go under in this 



172 



CARL LAEMMLE 



roaring turmoil of splendid opportunities. What 
sustained him, as the years went by, was that he 
never quite forgot that after all the opportunities 
were actually there. When he moved to Oshkosh, 
they seemed to come a little nearer to the fore- 
ground of his life, but only a little. For twelve 
years he went on advancing from a few dollars to 
a rather more considerable few dollars, and still 
the opportunities remained at best in the misty 
middle-distance. To be rising forty, and the man- 
ager of a small-town clothing store, is a very mild 
conquest of circumstance. But the real value of the 
Oshkosh days to Laemmle was that during them 
he learnt the importance, the capital importance 
of executive detail. Attention to it became a fixed 
and unrelaxing habit of his mind. When he had 
his momentous but disconcerting interview with 
Sam Stern, the opportunities were not only no 
nearer than they had been, they receded for a time 
towards eclipse on a far horizon. Laemmle's sal- 
vation in the crisis was that, by a concentrated ef- 
fort of vision, he still did not quite lose sight of 
them. Forty, out of a job, with no connections that 
amounted to anything, and with savings that 
would be absorbed by the smallest of unlucky 
ventures, Carl Laemmle in 1906 looked like the 
longest kind of odds outsider in the American 
Stakes. But, beyond the acutest observation — and 
it is more than unlikely that at that time anyone 
living would have given five thousand dollars a 



UNIVERSAL CITY 



173 



year for his future — he had resources that even 
yet might bring the outsider home. He was a 
trained executive, and he still saw the almost van- 
ishing gleam on the horizon. 

In other words, Carl Laemmle at forty was, 
although nobody knew it, a superb opportunist 
whom, so far, opportunity had unaccountably 
missed. And then, suddenly, it encountered him, 
teeming, solicitous, unexplored. With no warning, 
he came upon his young, virile, cross-bred in- 
dustry, waiting for brains and energy to use it. 
The opening of Universal City in 19 15 was the 
consummation of that happy meeting. During the 
first effective decade of motion picture history, 
Laemmle had excelled all his rivals in vigour, 
insight, perseverance, and faith. He had not 
advanced the screen to the status of a great art, 
but he more than any other man had made it an 
influence upon the social life of the world that 
was to gather unexampled impetus in the coming 
years. 

Controversy as to whether the motion picture 
will eventually destroy the drama of the tradition- 
al theatre seems to me futile. I will, therefore, not 
discuss it, but merely assert that it won't. Further, 
I am heartily in accord with the opinions so 
freely expressed that an alarming percentage of 
film activity is vulgar, banal, and insignificant, 
though, in parenthesis, I might add that the per- 
centage shown by the traditional theatre is hardly 



174 



CARL LAEMMLE 



more inspiring. The plain facts remain; in the 
United States alone thirty thousand people pay 
for entrance to picture houses each minute during 
exhibition hours. In a week this amounts to more 
than the total population of the country. And 
throughout the world something of the same sort 
is happening. Nothing remotely like it had ever 
happened before, and in 1906 nobody dreamt 
that anything like it ever could happen. And yet 
one man had wild fancies that the future was 
great with some such extravagant promise. It was 
Laemmle himself, wild as his fancies might be, 
who chiefly sent the promise on its way to ful- 
filment by a steady, practical grasp of the situa- 
tion as it developed convulsively from day to day. 

The social aspect of this phenomenon may be 
exemplified by a story broadcast recently by Will 
H. Hays, the man appointed by the united film 
interests of America as general mentor: 

The motion picture within the 30 years of its ex- 
istence has become a necessity. No story ever written 
for the screen is as dramatic as the story of the 
screen itself. In one of our great cities recently there 
was a theatre strike. The theatres were closed. For 
two nights a million people milled about the streets 
bereft of entertainment. The city authorities sent 
word that the theatres would have to re-open. It 
was necessary for the well being of the city that a 
place of amusement and relaxation be provided for 
that vast citizenry and so the theatres were opened. 



UNIVERSAL CITY 



175 



Turning to the much more debatable aspect of 
the question, the potentialities of the film as an 
art, I make free of a conversation that I had last 
year with Winthrop Ames, one of the ablest and 
most imaginative men of the theatre now living. 

I took the line that democracy, while it was an 
inevitable and on the whole desirable phase of 
political evolution, was a continually increasing 
menace to the integrity of the artist. I quoted the 
films in support of my case. The film industry, by 
an irresistible economic force, was more and more 
attracting the creative talent of the world to its 
service. But the great film companies, catering for 
an audience so vast as to make any earlier figures 
trifling, had to accommodate themselves at every 
turn to the demands of the very low common in- 
telligence of that huge assembly. The creative 
talent had either to abstain from participation in 
the very seductive rewards, or accommodate it- 
self also to the tastes of the morons and the hicks. 

Marginally, let me cite the following case. One 
of the principal film organisations suddenly be- 
came conscious of the fact that its productions 
were being derided by the more responsible journ- 
als. In a fugitive moment of shame it appointed a 
well-known man of letters to exercise some cen- 
sorship upon its taste and intelligence. He was 
given a large salary and a long contract. After a 
few months he was sent for by the president, who 
enquired: "Do you know how many chamber- 



176 



CARL LAEMMLE 



maids there are in the United States and Canada?" 
He did not know. "Eight millions. And do you 
know how many car conductors and drivers there 
are in the United States and Canada?" No, he 
did not. "Ten millions. That is eighteen millions. 
And they average three visits to the movies every 
week. That is fifty-four millions a week. That is 
the best subscription for any enterprise that you 
could have. And you are forgetting the chamber- 
maids. You think only of the fine ladies. But the 
fine ladies only go to the pictures when their 
chambermaids tell them to. You must consider the 
chambermaids." 

The eminent man of letters said that was not 
the way he looked at it. He was thereupon told 
that, if that were so, he had better go and look at 
it from some other place. And in the result he 
was given three years' salary to quit, and leave the 
moving pictures in peace and plenty with their 
chambermaids. 

That is a faithful record, and its significance 
cannot be evaded. But Winthrop Ames knew all 
about that, and still had something to say. Aristo- 
cratic patronage of the arts, he agreed with me, 
had made for exacting standards. Democratic 
patronage, on the other hand, was debasing the 
hall-mark. And then he made his point — a mem- 
orable one, I think. The debasement was transi- 
tional. Effective patronage of the arts went with 
wealth. Wealth to-day was passing from the few 



UNIVERSAL CITY 



177 



to the many. The redistribution meant a greatly 
diminished dictatorship for the individual, but an 
incalculably increased range of patronage. Creat- 
ive art in the coming generation or two — one 
could say nothing of later cyclical chances — 
would live, economically, by the suffrages not of 
milords but of millions. For the moment, the mil- 
lions, with their increased purchasing power, had 
not learnt how to exercise it. They had not ac- 
quired taste. But the acquisition of taste — and this 
is true by the demonstration of history — had al- 
ways followed the acquisition of wealth. Wealth 
in this new connotation he took to mean the pos- 
session of a surplus when the necessities of life had 
been met. And he believed that in the future the 
influence of a vast democracy on art would be as 
wholesome as that of a secluded aristocracy had 
ever been in the past. 

Speculation waits upon its proof. In the mean- 
time, we cannot but recognise that the medium 
through which more than any other the issue is 
being put to the test is the moving picture. And 
already there are indications that Winthrop Ames 
is on the side of discretion in his diagnosis. It is a 
very significant fact that some of the most intelli- 
gent and imaginative of recent moving pictures 
have also been among the most popular. A popu- 
lar moving picture means popular to an extent 
beyond any competition. For example, one of the 
most remarkable theatrical successes of recent 



178 



CARL LAEMMLE 



years is Noel Coward's "Bitter Sweet." In fifteen 
months it played at His Majesty's Theatre in Lon- 
don to a million people. A film, of unquestionable 
artistic integrity, has just played to over half a 
million in London in five weeks, and to that figure 
several times multiplied in other parts of the world 
during the same period. 

These are facts from which deductions may be 
made as the reader chooses. The point to our 
present purpose is that they are facts consequent 
upon the effort made by Carl Laemmle during the 
ten years that preceded the opening of Universal 
City. They were years when Laemmle, with all 
his ambitious enterprise, thought no opportunity 
so small that it might be neglected. He went out 
of his way to encourage the most inconsiderable 
person who might show an interest in moving 
pictures, and so perhaps might add a straw's 
weight to the gathering onset. A man wrote to 
him wishing to buy a machine; he offered ten 
cents down in postage stamps, and five cents a 
week thereafter in payment. Laemmle promised 
to let him have the machine, and a five-cent 
money order arrived weekly for some time, until 
it was unhappily discovered that the purchaser 
was not quite right in his head. It is a queer little 
footnote, one of many, to the spirited chronicles 
of early Independence. When Laemmle was 
building patiently towards Universal City, he 
never failed in the rare capacity for being able at 



UNIVERSAL CITY 



179 



once to take both the large and the near view. His 
place in the history of moving pictures is not to be 
confused with that of men using wholly different 
gifts to other ends — D. W. Griffith, for example, 
in the older generation, and John Murray Ander- 
son in the younger. But in the early organisatioR 
of the medium through which the imagination or. 
such men was to express itself, Laemmle must 
always be remembered as the ablest, the wisest, 
and the most intrepid of the pioneers. 

When Universal City was opened, its chief was 
in his forty-eighth year. It is interesting to note 
that in his earlier portraits we see a shrewd, not 
unhumorous face, but one of little distinction. As 
he got older, the distinction came. As effort 
smoothed out into authority, the lines and con- 
tours showed the steady moulding of character 
and personality. Nothing in a full span of life is a 
surer index of essential worth than this refine- 
ment of a man's looks. A man who is better look- 
ing at sixty than he was at thirty carries with him 
highly valuable credentials. Laemmle affords a 
striking example of the alchemy. 

Chicago, Sunday, March 7th, 1915. This after- 
noon at six o'clock a special train of four compart- 
ment cars, a diner, a buffet, and a drawing room 
car, left the Dearborn station over the Sante Fe, en 
route to the opening of Universal City in the land 
of orange groves. 

To the inspiring strains of Tipperary and Auld 



i8o 



CARL LAEMMLE 



Lang Syne a concourse of friends and interested 
sightseers waved "bon voyage" to the distinguished 
members of a most unusual pilgrimage. As a matter 
of sober fact, the assemblage — after an itinerary of 
exceptional scope— will be present at an event that 
can never again happen in the history of the world. 

They are to witness the opening of the first 
municipality — the first city or community — to be 
devoted exclusively to the manufacture of motion 
pictures. The city — this Universal City of which 
the picture world has talked for months — is the 
realisation of a dream by Carl Laemmle not more 
than ten years ago. 

It was no immoderate strain for the occasion. The 
special train reached Denver on Tuesday morn- 
ing. The party was led by a brass band to the 
capital, where state honours were accorded, and 
then dinner at the Savoy Hotel, graced by the 
impressive presence of Buffalo Bill in the chair. 
Two days were spent at the Grand Canyon, and 
Los Angeles was reached at mid-day on Satur- 
day. Here Laemmle, Cochrane, and the Univer- 
sal general start were received by the pageantry of 
the early screen come to life, players of all sorts 
and sizes from the studios, nickelodeon heroes 
and great beauties and famous clowns, and "all 
the cowboys, cowgirls, cavalrymen and Indians 
connected with the West Coast Plant." 

Thence, on Monday, March 15th, 19 15, to the 
gates of Universal City, four miles beyond Holly- 
wood, where a crowd of ten thousand people was 



UNIVERSAL CITY 



181 



waiting. Miss Laura Oakley, chief of the Univer- 
sal City police, handed Carl Laemmle a gold key 
giving him entrance to the new municipality. He 
placed it in the lock, and, as he turned it, released 
a super-flashlight connection of which he had been 
given no warning. For an instant, apocalypse ap- 
peared to envelop an alarmed and unassuming 
small gentleman as he stood at the gates of his 
Jerusalem. He recovered his balance, and, amidst 
scenes of transpontine fervour enlivened by the 
crackle of six-shooters, entered to behold a re- 
markable spectacle. 

The site is a historic one. A bronze tablet across 
the road marks the spot where in 1846 the treaty 
was made by the Mexican General Andree Pico 
and Colonel Fremont of the U.S. Army, whereby 
California was ceded to the United States. Here, 
in 19 1 5, the visitors found a city that had come 
into being within a few months, solely and com- 
pletely equipped for the large-scale production of 
motion pictures. There was a main stage, four 
hundred feet by a hundred and fifty in extent, 
with every kind of natural scenery at hand for al- 
ternative use, and a smaller stage for minor pro- 
ductions. Eighty dressing rooms and the com- 
pany offices were furnished with electric light and 
running water. There were three pumping sta- 
tions, a great concrete reservoir, a hospital, two 
restaurants capable of serving twelve hundred 
people, and an exhaustive range of shops, forges, 



l82 



CARL LAEMMLE 



garages and mills. Horses and cattle by the hun- 
dred, cats, dogs, sheep, mules, monkeys, parrots, 
had liberties without the arena houses that con- 
tained a miscellany of wild animals from all quar- 
ters of the globe. Cowboys from distant ranches 
and Indians from distant reservations had settled 
in shack and camp after their own tastes. Maca- 
damized roads, a police department, fire brigade, 
public utility services; libraries, green houses, an 
omnibus system and a school — here was a com- 
munity, enjoying full municipal rights, supplied 
by a specially constructed spur of the Southern 
Pacific Railroad, self-contained and self-sufficient, 
ready to show the world what movies meant to do. 

That, at least, was the specification. On that 
March day in 19 15, I dare say the contractors 
hadn't made their final disappearance; indeed, 
this was a city destined never to stop being built. 
Some of these amenities may belong to a later date, 
but in 1 9 15 the place was in effective working or- 
der. Since then the expansion has been unceasing. 
Mindful of its insatiable demands, Laemmle has 
called his Universal City the Bottomless Pit. Now 
you may see, permanently set, the "Streets of the 
World," ready for any outdoor scene that may 
be needed — you may walk in Monte Carlo, 
Cairo, Paris, Tokio, Madrid, London, Berlin, 
Constantinople, where you will. The two stages 
have become six — possibly while the words are 
being written the six have become a dozen — all 




ACTORS' WAITING ROOM, UNIVERSAL CITY, 1916 



UNIVERSAL CITY 



l8 3 



equipped for sound. On the roofs of three of them 
is spread out a sign — "Universal Pictures — Quiet," 
in fifty-foot letters, to warn away the aeroplanes 
lest the sensitive microphones should pick up the 
noise of their engines. And now the principal 
thoroughfare of the city is Laemmle Boulevard. 

But no events of the past fifteen years can dull 
the recollection of that triumphant day. For tri- 
umph it was. The details of it now may read like 
the prospectus of an obsolete town-planning 
scheme, but when Carl Laemmle entered Uni- 
versal City on that March morning in 19 15, a 
magician entered wonderland, no less. The op- 
portunist had come magnificently into his own. 
The making and the form of the inheritance that 
was to thrive to the orchestration of innumer- 
able reels, is a romance of far finer quality than 
many that adorn the screen itself. The romance 
has now settled into an urbane, but by no means 
dull or unvigilant maturity. In 19 15, Universal 
City was a hive, and nothing but a hive of in- 
dustry. A very enlightened hive, to be sure, with 
its hospital, and class-rooms — intended, be it 
noted, "not only for the children who live on the 
studio lot, but also for screen players who are still 
of school age" — and running water and sanitary 
dust-carts ; but still exclusively a hive. To-day, the 
poultry ranch has made a symbolic extension. 
Dedicated to the culture of pure white Leghorns, 
it has thirty-nine buildings of its own. It can ac- 



i8 4 



CARL LAEMMLE 



commodate five thousand adult birds, and eight 
thousand chickens of the smallest grade. Going 
his rounds with a hand-bin of the best corn, 
Laemmle thinks his investment a good one. In 
the more restless microcosm of 19 15 white Leg- 
horns had no place. It may be added that in the 
same year Universal, by way of keeping busy, al- 
so opened a large new eastern studio at Fort Lee 
in New Jersey. 

Everybody with any experience of the world of 
the theatre knows that it daily sees the birth of 
portentous secrets that are in general circulation 
within twenty-four hours. It used not to be so. 
If Henry Irving had a managerial secret, for ex- 
ample, it was known to nobody but himself and 
Bram Stoker, and possibly his leading lady when 
she was Miss Ellen Terry. Further, to Irving and 
his like, personal contact of the player with the 
public was a fashionable whim sternly to be dis- 
couraged. It amounted to a breach of professional 
etiquette, and tarnished the glamour that was one 
of the chief assets of the theatre. I think on the 
whole that, by ideal standards, Irving was right. 
I think that gossip about the domestic and busi- 
ness economy of the theatre is as unfortunate as it 
is nearly always misinformed ; and I think that if 
fewer of our players shone in society more of them 
might shine on the stage. At the same time, I do 
not think that these are matters of vital conse- 
quence either way, and I am sure that with the 




UNIVERSAL CITY STREET CLEANERS, 1916 




UNIVERSAL CITY POLICE, 1916 



UNIVERSAL CITY 



l8 5 



rise of a democratic press to vast circulations that 
in point of fact as vastly exaggerate its power, the 
ideals of Irving and his school were bound to be 
discarded. 

In the earliest days of film production, the 
operations of the studio were kept strictly from 
public view, and, under Trust regency, the play- 
ers were not encouraged to seek a personal popu- 
larity that would give them inflated ideas as to 
their market value. Laemmle, as we have seen, 
was the first producer to give his players all the 
personal advertisement that he could devise, and 
one of his first innovations at Universal City was 
to open picture-making to public inspection. His 
view was that the policy would stimulate interest. 
He built a grand stand from which as many 
visitors as chose to come could see the director and 
his company at work on the central stage. The 
concession could affect no more than a minute 
percentage of the moving-picture public, but it 
was unquestionably an adroit move. The few who 
could take advantage of it acted as an incalculable 
kind of leaven on the whole. One person so 
privileged would send out alluring reports to who 
knew how wide a circle of friends and friends' 
friends. The advent of the talking machine made 
the practice impossible; but Laemmle, so sure 
was he of its value, was one of the last producers 
to relinquish it. 

Another of the regulations laid down at Uni- 



i86 



CARL LAEMMLE 



versal City was that no performer should be asked 
to take the smallest personal risk in the execution 
of his duties. A player who felt that the most triv- 
ial hazard was involved in his part had a prescrip- 
tive right to decline it without prejudice to his 
employment. 

Shortly after Universal City had been opened, 
Laemmle had an opportunity of showing the 
spirit in which he proposed to conduct business 
competition. Thomas H. Ince, who had been one 
of his early players, and then a director at forty- 
five dollars a week, was now producing on his 
own account, and at the time engaged in a studio 
at Santa Monica, on an ambitious picture to be 
called "The Battle of Gettysburg." When the 
work was half completed, his entire outfit, con- 
sisting of studio, properties and costumes, was 
destroyed by fire. He was operating on a small 
margin, had no apparent means of finishing the 
picture, and was faced by ruin. Laemmle was in 
New York when he received news of his rival's 
misfortune, and immediately wired instructions 
to California that Ince was to have unrestricted 
use of the Universal plant and stores; the tele- 
gram concluded: "Do not charge a cent for them." 
Ince, when the offer was communicated to him 
by the Universal manager, was with difficulty 
persuaded that it was not an inferior form of 
humour. When at length he was convinced, he 
merely, but sufficiently, said, "There is no other 



UNIVERSAL CITY 



187 



man who would do that." Ince died in 1924, be- 
fore his time, and Laemmle bought his Beverley 
Hills estate, Dios Dorados, from his widow. The 
price is said to have been three-quarters of a mil- 
lion dollars. It is a lovely place, but the sum was 
not an easy one. There was once a wit who, having 
borrowed five pounds, proposed to borrow ten, 
with the observation that one good turn deserved 
another. It is a philosophy that has always been 
congenial to Laemmle's mind. He feels un- 
der a lasting obligation to anyone whom he has 
once obliged. Sometimes it may be awkward. 
But Dios Dorados is a lovely place. 

An earlier incident, also occasioned by a fire, is 
in place here. Laemmle himself was burnt out, at 
Omaha, Nebraska. As had been the case at Mon- 
treal, a competitor, but this time not a Trust com- 
petitor, provided him with temporary premises. 
Laemmle in due course made full reimburse- 
ment; and at the same time took large advertising 
space in the trade papers to record his public 
thanks for the generous and timely aid. We like 
men who can both give and take with grace. 



CHAPTER XII 



A MAN AND MOTION PICTURES 

By the time he is fifty, a man's character is 
moulded, and his powers are mature. The char- 
acter may yet re-act in unsuspected ways to tests 
that it has not hitherto endured, and the powers 
may yet be put to greatly enlarged achievement. 
Thomas Hardy, in his superb "Ancient to An- 
cients," written when he was approaching eighty, 
threw out the challenge: 

And yet, though ours be failing frames, 

Gentlemen, 
So were some others' history names, 
Who trod their track light-limbed and fast 
As these youths, and not alien 
From enterprise, to their long last, 

Gentlemen. 

Sophocles, Plato, Socrates, 

Gentlemen. 
Pythagoras, Thucydides, 
Herodotus, and Homer — yea, 
Clement, Augustin, Origen, 
Burnt brightlier towards their setting-day, 

Gentlemen. 

1 88 



A MAN AND MOTION PICTURES 189 



It is one of the popular fallacies of the present 
time that this is particularly the age of youth. It is a 
fallacy flattered by demagogic politicians and 
journalists whose windy rhetoric finds inadequate 
response from minds of some experience, and who 
have moreover a solicitude for the flapper vote. It 
is all very silly. In the first place, youth is not 
nearly so susceptible to flattery as is commonly 
supposed in the bright old press. If you tell the 
average intelligent boy of twenty-five that he is 
really the brains and the backbone of the country, 
he will take you for a feather- wit; and you will 
fare no better with the average girl. The youth of 
this age is splendid ; as it always has been. Except 
in a few periodical journals that perform the un- 
usual feat of being over-bred and under-bred at 
the same time, there are no signs of the disrespect 
of youth for its elders of which we hear so much 
from writers who appear to think that night clubs 
have something to do with the social life of the 
nation. I do not believe that the chivalry of the re- 
lations between youth and maturity has ever 
been sounder than it is to-day, and it is, as always, 
one of the most charming and wholesome aspects 
of national life. When we are told that youth 
wants to turn the old fogeys out, what is really 
happening is that some old fogey is trying to 
seduce youth into helping him to turn some other 
old fogey out. Youth, in fact, neither talks nor 
thinks that way, and it has never had less reason 



190 



CARL LAEMMLE 



to do so than at the present time. Far from being 
conspicuously the day of youth, it is quite aston- 
ishingly the day of middle and even advancing 
age. To consider one kind of activity alone, litera- 
ture, and in one country only. Take away from 
Hardy, Bridges, Shaw, Wells, Galsworthy, and 
Yeats the work done since the age of fifty, and you 
would in every case take away something of the 
highest importance. And who among the young- 
er men excels not the early but the recent work of 
these? By all the tokens, never was there a time 
when the man of fifty could more confidently look 
forward to achievements yet to come; the man of 
fifty, that is to say, who may be spoken of in terms 
of any considerable achievement at all. On cur- 
rent form, given A. at thirty and B. at fifty, with 
equal native endowments, I would take B.'s 
chance on the next ten years every time. 

Laemmle at fifty had won his big fight and es- 
tablished himself. His character was fixed, and 
the nature of his powers declared. In the follow- 
ing fourteen years, the character was to remain 
true to itself, and the powers were to find ample 
employment. If, when he was fifty, Laemmle's 
career had passed its more spectacular phases, it 
was entering upon a new period of relatively 
tranquil construction. His achievement up to 
19 15 was, in its own sphere, epoch-making. Since 
then it has been less precarious, and less dramatic. 
In later years he has, with tireless husbandry and 



A MAN AND MOTION PICTURES I9 1 



clear judgment reaped the rich rewards of a pio- 
neer ardour that cleared its soil of most formidable 
rocks and weeds. The labour was long and anx- 
ious; it has since been long and secure. And 
throughout, the assurance of achievement has been 
firm. It is time to see what the fundamental na- 
ture of the achievement is. 

The gentle reader will, perhaps, indulge me 
while my narrative makes a brief discursion of a 
personal nature. When it was announced that I 
was writing the life of Carl Laemmle, a number 
of anxious critics asked, Why? Lincoln, Lee, By- 
ron, Charles II, Charles Fox, Pepys — yes, certain- 
ly; but Carl Laemmle? Wasn't that a very odd 
thing for the biographer of Lincoln, Lee, Byron, 
and the rest, to do? I regret to say that on inquiry 
I found that many of the interrogators had a far 
less intimate knowledge of my work upon those 
eminent subjects than I could have wished. In- 
deed, I was surprised to find among those friends 
who were so careful for my alleged reputation, so 
many who had a virginal innocence of the works 
by which I had acquired it. 

But there were others, and more pertinent — 
does that connote, less impertinent? — querists, 
who whether they talked wisely or not, knew 
what they were talking about. E. V. Knox, the in- 
comparable "Evoe" of Punch, honoured the pro- 
ject with a poem in what I flatter myself was his 
best vein. The burden of it was that while he 



192 



CARL LAEMMLE 



knew something of my other subjects and, I am 
proud to add, of my treatment of them, he had 
never heard of Carl Laemmle, who, he inferred, 
had made sex sparkle on the screen. It was very 
good-humoured, very witty, exquisitely pointed 
to a comma, and, in the best public school tradi- 
tion, very costive. Who should Laemmle be, 
whom Evoe does not know? Who, indeed. Some- 
thing to do with those vulgar movies. Sex, and 
all that. Living on roots, doubtless, in the deserts 
of California. Never been to Eton or any such 
place, never played a straight bat against fast bowl- 
ing; used to wearing a bowler hat with his tux- 
edo. Chews gum, probably, and eats his cigars. 
Found in infancy on the Hoboken Subway, 
wrapped in a Tammany blanket. Square- jawed 
and one hundred per cent, festooned with cuspi- 
dors, apprizing brunettes and blondes. And how. 

Let me not be mistaken. I have cared for poetry 
more than for anything in my imaginative life — 
far more. And I take Evoe to share with A. P. 
Herbert the distinction of being the best writer of 
light verse in my time. But how does so subtle, 
so gentle, and so honest a mind commit itself to 
these levities? I once asked the assistant in a book- 
seller's shop — English shop — "Have you 'The 
Three Musketeers'?" The response was, "Are they 
books?" How Evoe would have laughed, in his 
modest, considerate way. 

And then there is my friend, Hugh Walpole, to 



A MAN AND MOTION PICTURES 193 

borrow the opening favoured in the debates of the 
British Broadcasting Corporation. Again, let me 
clear the ground. I think Hugh Walpole the best 
novelist under fifty now writing in England. My 
opinion does not amount to much, since my 
knowledge of contemporary fiction is perfunc- 
tory. Nevertheless, I have read enough stories in 
my time to know that he tells one in a manner 
that would not have shamed the acknowledged 
masters. Moreover, I can say "my friend" with a 
long-tried confidence. Very well. He, too, is 
scrupulous for my soul. He contributes instructive 
letters on current literary topics to a great New 
York newspaper. In one of these, distinguished 
by such prose as: "For myself, the most satisfac- 
tory, possibly the most lasting, book that the au- 
tumn will produce may very possibly be Professor 
Trevelyan's Blenheim," he writes: 

We are threatened with biographies of every con- 
ceivable person, ranging from Lazarus to Carl 
Laemmle, the latter to be compiled, of all surpris- 
ing things, by Mr. John Drinkwater, who has also 
written a "Life of Pepys," and I hope that in 
changing from the Royal Navy of King Charles to 
the rich palaces of Hollywood Mr. Drinkwater will 
not lose his head. 

And then, alas, "Of serious important biographies 
I see no sign." 
Pepys, who we observe is "written" as against 



194 



CARL LAEMMLE 



Laemmle "compiled," might perhaps have been 
given the benefit of the doubt pending publica- 
tion. But what is all this about "of all surprising 
things?" I have recently been reading Mr. Wal- 
pole's Rogue Herries. It is a splendid book, full 
of swing and energy. There are suggestions here 
and there of a rush of history to the head, but the 
yarn is a first-rate one, planned and told on a 
generous scale. But by what right, by what ex- 
perience of life, by what knowledge of character, 
does Mr. Walpole assume that Francis Herries is 
a more interesting person than Carl Laemmle? 
Clearly, he may have given the one a far better 
show than I am giving the other. But the failure 
then on my part is in my treatment, not in my 
subject. Happier as Herries may be in his bio- 
grapher than Laemmle, he seems to me in himself 
to be of much less significance. The element of 
invention is irrelevent. Boswell's Life of Johnson 
was not easier to write than Tom Jones; and if it 
be observed that I am not Boswell, I dare say Mr. 
Walpole would still doff his cap to Fielding. 

Mr. Augustus John paints portraits. Indeed, he 
has painted one of Mr. Walpole. What would 
Mr. Walpole have felt about it if someone had 
written, "Mr. Hugh Walpole's portrait is being 
painted, of all surprising things, by Mr. Augustus 
John?" But Mr. Walpole is surprised that I should 
be writing the life of Carl Laemmle, surprised, 
that must mean if it means anything, that I should 



A MAN AND MOTION PICTURES 



195 



think it worth writing. Since, when he wrote the 
words, he plainly knew as little about Laemmle as 
I suspect he knew about Lazarus, the surprise was 
frivolous, if, indeed, it was not simulated to spice 
a paragraph. I don't think Mr. Walpole really 
hoped I shouldn't lose my head in "the rich 
palaces of Hollywood" ; I think the mail was go- 
ing out to-morrow and only the first of three 
columns was finished. Oddly enough, while liter- 
ary criticism is not one of Mr. Walpole' s long 
suits, he writes at the end of the letter in question: 
"The fascination of narrative, the power of creat- 
ing character, will always attract the individual 
genius and it does not matter in the least what 
form the result of that attraction chooses to take." 

Here, in his last sentence, Mr. Walpole for the 
first time in three columns says something impor- 
tant ; but he says it, I think, without realising the 
nature of its importance. He has been deploring 
the "rush and hurry of life" that "seems to be kill- 
ing the younger poets, the more serious historians, 
the more masterly biographers." But, he adds, he 
does not wish to end on a note of pessimism, and 
is happy to see the situation saved by the vigorous 
if congested state of the novel. So, what matter 
after all if there be "no sign of serious, important 
biographies," seeing that "the fascination of nar- 
rative — etc.," and that "individual genius" is find- 
ing full scope in the art of fiction, to which, let 
me say, he himself lends so much distinction. But 



196 



CARL LAEMMLE 



does Mr. Walpole really suppose that there is in- 
herently more creative energy, more power of 
shaping character, in the latest novels of Mr. 
Maugham, Mr. Priestley, and Mr. Brett Young, 
than there is in Sir Edward Parry's Queen Caro- 
line, Miss Viola MeynelPs Life of her mother, and 
Mr. Harold Nicolson's of his father? The idea 
that in some way it is easier to create in terms of 
documentary evidence than it is to create in terms 
of invention, is nothing but a crude literary super- 
stition. Invention, indeed, is a word that cannot 
properly be used in this antithetical sense. There is 
every whit as much invention in a good biography 
as in a good novel, and Mr. Walpole ought to 
know better than to predicate of any subject, 
whatever the intended form may be, that it is 
not "important." To adopt the B.B.C. debating 
manner more precisely, my dear Hugh, and to 
adopt the words so often quoted by Mr. T. W. H. 
Crossland in his finer dialetical moments, tilly- 
fally. 

Let us turn from these hallucinations in verse 
and prose, to the facts. In the quieter moods of his 
later years Carl Laemmle had been reflecting on 
the strange story of which, from Laupheim to 
Universal City, he had been the protagonist. Un- 
der his supervision a vast accumulation of data 
had been gathered together, covering every aspect 
of his career. It had taken eight years to collect 
and classify this material. It was shown to me, and 



A MAN AND MOTION PICTURES 197 



I found some thousands of pages packed with de- 
tail of almost endless variety, a great deal of it 
belonging to die waste tissue of obsolete events, 
irrecoverable personalities, business and domestic 
commonplaces, and unilluminating statistics. And 
yet, obviously, it was a dossier of remarkable in- 
terest. Very properly, nothing had been consid- 
ered too trifling or too remote for inclusion, but 
the process of selection and elimination at once 
promised to be an exciting one. For, obscured in 
this voluble profusion, there lay the outline of an 
absorbing story. With what excitement would one 
have come across such virgin evidence had it been 
about an Elizabethan merchant or a Mayflower 
pioneer. And how with less excitement now? 
Here was material as chaotic, as strange, as unco- 
ordinated, and as vital as the stuff of life itself. 
To detach this outline, then to model it in three di- 
mensions and quicken it into a living figure, 
seemed to present those problems of narrative and 
character of which Mr. Walpole speaks so en- 
ticingly. 

The interest of the narrative in itself has, by 
now, I hope, appeared. Whatever it may have lost 
in the telling, I am sure that the story is a good 
one. The character that the narrative releases in 
action is even more notable. The career has passed 
from its secluded and humble origins, through 
a youth of failure, for it was no better than that, 
to an entirely undistinguished maturity; at the 



ip8 



CARL LAEMMLE 



age of forty, with no apparent prospects to en- 
courage the ambition that still survived, suddenly 
the career plunged into public activity, made what 
seemed impossible bids, fought its way through a 
prolonged crisis of unscrupulous and demented 
fury, and arrived at fame, fortune, and a secure 
and respected age. And throughout this adventure, 
the character engaged in it has remained upright, 
generous, unruffled. The temper that could be 
steel on occasion, has never turned mean or ugly. 
Power, that has been quite ruthless in its opposi- 
tion to tyranny, has never become tyrannical. A 
liberal and shrewd intelligence has neither sold 
the pass nor affected intuitions beyond its natur- 
al scope. And a personality tested by privation, 
controversial bitterness, rough company and slip- 
pery jacks, has never allowed these evil communi- 
cations to corrupt its good manners. In 19 12, in 
the midst of the anti-Trust fight, an editorial said : 
"Carl Laemmle is a jolly good fellow, and de- 
servedly popular with exhibitors." It was a simple 
testimonial, but, in its context, it was no shallow 
compliment. The truth is that we may search the 
annals of industrial conflict in vain to find a bet- 
ter fellow. Such probity, as modest as it has been 
uncloistered, tried by the common usage of com- 
petitive anxiety and fear, and serenely taking 
itself as a matter of course, is very attractive. 

What of the particular industry in which this 
achievement of character has been made? It is not 



A MAN AND MOTION PICTURES 199 



necessary to share Laemmle's own evangelical be- 
lief in the importance and the future of moving- 
pictures to allow at least that here is a medium of 
great and unexplored possibilities, and one that 
has already extended the range of popular enter- 
tainment to daily millions of people hitherto inac- 
cessible as an audience. The obstacle in the way 
of an artistic progress that shall be in any way 
commensurable with the economic progress of 
the screen, is twofold in kind. It is useless to dis- 
regard the fact that these economic possibilities 
have attracted to the industry a great number of 
people who, even with good intentions, have 
neither standards nor background to guide them. 
The picture-house has, in the minds of many edu- 
cated folk, become synonymous with poor taste, 
low educational culture, and trivial mentality. The 
people holding this view may mostly belong to an 
older generation that has been discouraged by the 
prolonged emancipation of the screen from mere 
ignorance. Some there are who still deny that 
even yet the emancipation is on the way. There 
are signs that they are wrong, and clearly the opin- 
ion that the film is intellectually lost in the outer 
darkness is irresponsible and uninformed. Never- 
theless, there remains the serious fact that many 
of the present controllers of the industry have no 
artistic perceptions, and, indeed, openly talk of 
art as though it were something pretentious and 
necessarily unpopular. With the advent of the 



200 



CARL LAEMMLE 



spoken word to screen production, this trouble 
is greatly intensified. It is difficult to know wheth- 
er the action and significance of a moving pic- 
ture are of any distinction unless you know some- 
thing of the best that has been achieved by the 
creative mind of man; but since the screen em- 
ploys a technique that in many respects is novel 
and self-determined, an acute natural instinct may 
sometimes form valuable artistic judgments on its 
products without the aid of more than a smatter- 
ing of artistic education. It will not often happen, 
but it is not impossible. But the spoken word in- 
troduces into picture-production an element that 
leaves the uneducated intelligence helpless, wheth- 
er it happens to be naturally acute or not. An il- 
literate person may, by the grace of natural wit, 
know whether a moving-picture is well con- 
structed, whether the emotions that it arouses are 
genuine or spurious, and even whether its brain- 
work is above the level of a night-club or a purity- 
league. But the illiterate person when it comes to 
a question of literacy, founders out of hand. 

Messrs. and and , whose names 

must not be mentioned, were uncertain mentors 
at best of the silent screen; there can be no un- 
certainty as to what their influence would be on 
the spoken word. 

But the trouble goes deeper than that. There are 
in the motion picture business many producers 
and directors of fine intentions and a correspond- 



A MAN AND MOTION PICTURES 201 

ing culture. They want to do the good thing, and 
they know what the good thing is. How far is it 
possible for them to escape from those same eco- 
nomic conditions? If the potential market for a 
picture be x millions, dare they produce work 
that almost certainly will not attract more than b 
millions? And if not, can they resist the drag from 
the intellectual low level of the x millions? In 
Hollywood four or five years ago I was privileged 
to see the private test of a new picture by one of 
the most famous screen actors. He and his mana- 
gers sat together, making occasional whispered 
comments. But one member of the small audience 
kept apart, and at intervals he would cry "Stop ! " 
His function was to adjust his mind to that of the 
elemental bone-head. Any incident that he judged 
would be obscure or confusing to that capacity, 
was challenged, and marked either to be cut or 
modified. The arbitrator was a man of keen and 
well-furnished understanding, with a special apti- 
tude, it seemed, for simulating mentality of in- 
ferior grades. I must confess that his standard was, 
to my inexperience, incredibly low, but he assured 
me that it was an accurate one. The actor him- 
self, who was his own impresario, would utter 
an occasional word of ineffectual protest, and 
fade away ; more often he merely raised his hands 
in despair and said nothing. The drag was irre- 
sistible. 

On the other hand, there is the incontestable 



202 



CARL LAEMMLE 



fact that quite recently several intelligent produc- 
ers have shown the courage of their enlighten- 
ment, and have been richly rewarded by the re- 
sults. More and more the best pictures are rank- 
ing also as the most successful pictures. Unless the 
signs are deceptive, and there is nothing to sug- 
gest that they are, there is reason, at least, for mod- 
erating our misgivings. I do not believe that the 
screen can ever drive the three-dimensional pres- 
ence of the living actor from the stage, and I am 
sure that the traditional theatre will always exer- 
cise an irreplaceable appeal. In my book, The Art 
of "Theatre going, I analysed at length the reasons 
for my belief that the screen can never rival the 
living stage in essential significance. Certain 
achievements of photography, and, still more, the 
potentialities of the speaking-picture, make the 
reasons less conclusive, even to myself, though I 
think the argument, which need not be restated 
here, remains unaffected in fundamentals. But 
that the screen will for years to come — perma- 
nently it may be — draw its thousands while the 
theatre draws its hundreds, there can be no rea- 
sonable doubt. The rising standard of screen pro- 
duction, of which to-day there is clear evidence, 
is highly reassuring for the future of democratic 
entertainment. It may even have a greater sig- 
nificance. 

Such is the industry in the service of which Carl 
Laemmle's character has been proved. What the 



A MAN AND MOTION PICTURES 203 



man is most concerns us; but hardly less are we 
interested in the occasion of his being it. And, on 
the whole, to have done well, very notably well, 
by the moving-picture industry, is, I take it, as 
high and laudable a record as most. Hardy, Ein- 
stein, Abercrombie, Edwin Arlington Robinson, 
Delius, Paul Nash, Manship, Ronald Ross, Ed- 
ward Lutyens — such names in our reckoning are 
hors concours. But then: oil, automobiles, ferro- 
concrete, sardines, certified circulations, Graf-Zep- 
pelins? I see Laemmle of the Movies more readily 
welcomed at the Round Table than any of these. 
Politics, even with a portfolio, episcopal — even 
archiepiscopal — lawn, the marshal's baton, the 
woolsack? Again, hard cash apart, I would back 
Laemmle's credit in the world audit against any 
of these. 

Once when I had a severe cold in the nose, I 
went to see England play Scotland at Rugby foot- 
ball. Although in my normal condition I can stand 
being pushed against a brick wall with another 
man, my indisposition then made me feel inde- 
scribably puny. Those classic three-quarter-backs 
looked so splendid, so fast, so independent of 
handkerchiefs. I was later reminded of myself 
by a small tyke who sat next to me when I was 
watching Georges Carpentier fight Joe Beckett. 
" 'It 'im Joe, 'it 'im," he cried during the few 
moments available, " 'it 'im, 'it 'is bloody 'ed off." 
He was a ridiculous little tyke, who would have 



204 



CARL LAEMMLE 



fainted if a wench had thrown a brussels sprout 
at him in the Old Kent Road. Joe Beckett was too 
slow in the wits for the superb and agile French- 
man, but he was a great fellow in his way, his 
muscles rippling under a fleckless gypsy tan, one 
who had fought through country booths to the 
heavy-weight championship of England. And the 
tyke yelling at him was a little vulgarian, eligible 
only, as the anti-Trust manifesto would have said, 
for a kick in the pants. That is how I felt watch- 
ing Ronny — I never spoke to him, but we all 
called him Ronny — Poulton as he left the flower 
of the Scottish defence guessing — just a vulgarian 
who had got into the wrong seat. 

Carl Laemmle's' vocation is of a kind that sur- 
rounds him with small tykes yelling and short- 
winded people with colds in the nose — with vul- 
garians in fact. Not vulgarians only — there were 
many stalwart and hygienic gentlemen both at 
Twickenham and the Albert Hall. But with vul- 
garians plentiful enough to give a grace of colour 
to the allegation, when Walpole dines with Knox, 
that the whole affair is vulgar. (As an aside, let me 
record that I once smote Hugh's bowler-hat — 
wearing a cap myself — over his eyes when he 
shouted "Cambridge" as Oxford scored a try.) 
And that is, let us realise, one of the equivocations 
into which we are landed by the very strange 
values by which we live to-day. 

Vulgar? The Nuremberg madonnas, Bavarian 



A MAN AND MOTION PICTURES 205 



landscapes with exquisitely modelled feudal keeps, 
Siegfried's reluctant "Atta Boy," five dearly cher- 
ished gold dollar pieces for a decenter cabin, dis- 
taste for the bad smells in a New York drug-store, 
terror in the shambles of Chicago, maple-leaves in 
Oshkosh, clean chairs in the nickelodeon of Mil- 
waukee Avenue, the two hundred and fortieth in- 
junction suit by this morning's mail, "don't charge 
Tom Ince one cent for this," white Leghorns, the 
simple pleasures of an autograph album at Bever- 
ley Hills, Rosabelle's daughter, "All Quiet on the 
Western Front." If that, if these, be vulgar, what 
price glory? 

In the present year, 1930, Laemmle announced 
a new principle as governing the policy of his Uni- 
versal Pictures Corporation. "A New Day," he 
called it, "in Universal History." Hitherto the 
company had chiefly been concerned to produce 
large numbers of the "programme pictures" to 
which its great clientele of exhibitors had been ac- 
customed. Henceforward, the resources of Uni- 
versal City were to be applied to the annual pro- 
duction of a few pictures representing the best 
talent that the industry could command. It is good 
to be as flexible as that in the middle sixties. 



CHAPTER XIII 



CHARACTER 

The first picture made at Universal City was 
"Damon and Pythias" (who, my dear Hugh, 
was Pythias?), featuring a great chariot race of the 
kind that later became celebrated on the screen in 
"Ben Hur." Other exercises towards the light in 
early Universal days were "Richelieu," "Washing- 
ton at Valley Forge," and "Neptune's Daughter," 
the last being made for the purpose of showing 
how well Annette Kellerman could swim. The 
errand-boy from Chicago, later the clothier of 
Oshkosh, presented stories by masters in Italian, 
French, German, Swedish and Danish literature. 

Laemmle also startled the trade by giving wo- 
men commissions to direct his pictures. Lois 
Weber, the most famous of them, Ida May Park, 
and Cleo Madison, were among the pioneers of 
his revolutionary suffrage. A list of the celebrities 
who have worked for Laemmle would almost be- 
come a Who's Who of Picture Players. Many of 
them found their first engagement with him, and 
to many more he gave early opportunities. Lon 
Chaney was his "character man" at thirty-five 

206 



CHARACTER 



207 



dollars. Harold Lloyd, in his book An American 
Comedy, wrote: 

The crest of my "Universal" experience came [in 
1913] with "Samson and Delilah," a pretentious 
four reel effort of J. Farrell MacDonald, out of 
which I drew eight or nine straight five-dollar pay 
checks — an unusual break. . . . Extras who got on 
regularly were identified with one director. I was 
more or less attached to J. Farrell MacDonald. In 
MacDonald's unit I worked up from three dollars a 
day occasionally to five dollars a day with five 
weeks' work guaranteed — and picked up a char- 
acter bit now and then. 

I suppose Mr. Lloyd's earning power subsequent- 
ly reached something in the neighbourhood of five 
dollars a minute. Among others who played or 
directed for Universal, in the days when their 
careers were yet to make, were Mae Murray, Her- 
bert Brenon, Pearl White, Lew Cody, Betty 
Compson, Carmel Myers, Rex Ingram, Rudolph 
Valentino and Eric von Stroheim. To these should 
be added such international names as Sarah Bern- 
hardt, Anna Pavlova, and Marie Tempest, all of 
whom have appeared in Universal films. And of 
reputations made under Laemmle by players in 
later years a catalogue might be given from A to 
Z. It is on record that Charlie Chaplin was once 
at the point of signing a Universal contract, but 
at the last moment the arrangement fell through ; 
and I don't think that Douglas Fairbanks has ever 



208 



CARL LAEMMLE 



played for Laemmle. Otherwise, Laemmle's pay- 
roll must record the first great generation of 
film players with but few notable omissions. 

Of Laemmle's accessibility and initiative, an ex- 
ample is afforded in the story of his association 
with Eric von Stroheim. At the end of the war von 
Stroheim, an Austrian, was drifting about Holly- 
wood with a scenario in his pocket which nobody 
would read. Racial prejudice had defeated him 
when he walked out to Universal City, not having 
the necessary cents for a car-fare. There also he 
was refused a hearing, and in final desperation he 
went to Laemmle's house. It was evening, and the 
family was at dinner. The servant, not caring for 
the stranger's appearance, refused him admission. 
Von Stroheim protested loudly. "I only want to 
see him for ten minutes." It was overheard by 
Laemmle, who left the table and went to the 
door. 

"Who wants to see me for ten minutes?" Von 
Stroheim on the doorstep made frantic efforts to 
explain in one, before he should be shut out, what 
his business was. Laemmle had a theatre engage- 
ment, but would give him ten minutes exactly. 

They went in, and talked till midnight, the 
family being sent off to the theatre alone. The re- 
sult of the interview was the production of "Blind 
Husbands," the establishment of von Stroheim's 
reputation, and a sequel of somewhat unhappy ex- 
travagance unique in the annals of Universal man- 



CHARACTER 



209 



agement. But there was no other man in the busi- 
ness who at that time would have given von Stro- 
heim his chance, and even Laemmle might have 
been excused if he had declined to cancel his 
theatre appointment merely to oblige a gesticulat- 
ing intruder who said he had a very good scenario. 
At that rate, one would suppose, he might have 
given up the attempt to keep any appointments at 
all. 

Von Stroheim's nationality may have appealed 
to Laemmle's native sympathies. In the controver- 
sy that preceded America's entry into the war, 
Woodrow Wilson's critics abroad had not the 
faintest conception of the magnitude of his task. 
Whatever his own views might be, and however 
readily the policy of participation might be sup- 
ported in the east, the conversion of opinion in the 
middle and far west from its traditional, and quite 
natural, indifference to European affairs, was in- 
evitably a slow and often an apparently impossible 
undertaking. Among other sources of difficulty 
was the large American population of German 
origin. It was a source of peculiar complexity, of 
which the case of Carl Laemmle furnishes a char- 
acteristic example. 

It is nearly always futile to approach American 
problems in terms of past experience, since there is 
generally no past experience to the point. The 
American race to-day is constituted of a diversity 
of elements for which there is not remotely any 



210 



CARL LAEMMLE 



example. Immigration in the past has taken into 
America every extreme of character. On the one 
hand, you would find, in the westward bound 
steerage, the purgings of the European countries, 
ill-conditioned rebels, fugitives from justice, in- 
curable malcontents, a motley of the wasters and 
misfits of society; and on the other hand you 
would find a strong infusion of hardy and intre- 
pid idealists, men of fine stock and character, seek- 
ing wider scope for constructive and lawful am- 
bitions than they could come by at home. 

It is the supreme achievement, as it is the su- 
preme mystery, of the American commonwealth, 
that it has been able to transmute these diverse 
and discordant elements into a genuinely national 
type with a dominant national consciousness. It 
will be long before history is able to define the 
precise psychological nature and significance of 
this remarkable process, but in the meantime there 
is the fact, plain to any instructed observation. 
The alien who becomes a naturalised American 
citizen does much more than sign a paper and take 
an oath. He becomes, not only in name, but in 
outlook, in perceptions, in habits and in loyalties, 
something that he was not before. It is, indeed, 
not too much to say that his conduct, his ways of 
thought, even his nature itself are affected by the 
change. In short, he not only becomes a citizen of 
America, he becomes an American. 

But, even so, he is likely to retain some senti- 



CHARACTER 



211 



mental affection for the land of his origin. Par- 
ticularly will this be so with men who, like 
Laemmle, left it neither under suspicion nor in 
protest. The tale of benefactions done by pros- 
perous Americans to their native towns abroad is 
a long and honourable one, and when, in 19 14, 
Germany went to war, it was inevitable that she 
should engage the romantic sympathies of thou- 
sands of perfectly loyal Americans for whom, 
whatever their political views, the event was full 
of memories. 

Such a one was Carl Laemmle. The citizen of 
a neutral state, punctilious as he might be in the 
public observance of neutrality, could not but re- 
member the little boy of Laupheim. When at 
length the American decision was made, Laemm- 
le was, quite simply, one of a hundred and twenty 
million compatriots who confirmed it. When I 
recently saw his old friend Regensteiner, I asked 
how they felt when America went into the war. 
"Why, like Americans, of course." The answer 
was exact, and final. 

At Christmas, 1915, Woodrow Wilson, in reply 
to a proposal that through the medium of the 
screen he should address a seasonable message to 
the nation, wrote to Laemmle, with diplomatic 
charm, that he wished he could do that sort of 
thing, but that it was just the sort of thing he could 
not do. 

By the end of 19 17, however, tongues were 



212 



CARL LAEMMLE 



loosed, and Laemmle was able to publish an im- 
pressive sheet of messages circulated through the 
picture-houses. The President still was silent, but 
the Vice-President spoke, Mr. Lloyd George, 
Lord Northcliffe, General Pershing, Cardinal 
Gibbons, six members of the Cabinet, ambassa- 
dors, University Presidents, State Governors 
(twenty-nine of them) and as many Senators — 
they all spoke, urging, scolding, praising, praying. 
Mr. Lloyd George appealed to "the ever-growing 
league of free nations," Lord Northcliffe appealed 
for Ships! Ships! Ships! — for nine million tons 
of new shipping, Vice-President Marshall dis- 
claimed any desire to kill the German Emperor, 
but exorcised his shadow from "a liberty-loving" 
America, while the Governor of Delaware an- 
nounced that his State was in the war with the 
slogan "peace never until forever." There is a ter- 
rible kind of tarnish on the words as we read them 
now, but the accents come back to all of us with a 
familiar if ghostly ring. I can find it in my heart 
to hope that Carl Laemmle did not himself write 
one of the headlines to the sheet: "This brilliant 
symposium is an unparalleled motion picture and 
journalistic achievement." Though men said 
strange things in those days ; and in any case prop- 
aganda was nowhere distinguished by its dignity. 
Laemmle by that time was, like the rest of the 
world, thinking and speaking in terms of pa- 
triotism. He had asked these notabilities for ex- 



CHARACTER 



213 



pressions of opinion. He wanted to make the 
answers go, and the best he knew was his own 
way of doing it. These things are not truly seen in 
the calm light of reflection. In 19 15 he had been 
an enthusiastic supporter of Mr. Ford's proposal 
to sail somewhere in the Ark of Peace. Now he 
was an American at war. 

One message arrived too late for inclusion in 
the manifesto; though, perhaps, it was not quite 
in tone with the rest. It was from that brave, ob- 
stinate Paladin of American politics, William Jen- 
nings Bryan. He wrote: 

January 13, 1917. 

My dear Mr. Laemmle, — 

Am very sorry I could not get an answer to you 
in time for your Christmas edition. If it is not too 
late you may say for me: When, except in case of 
invasion, declarations of war are submitted to the 
people for ratification before hostilities begin — then 
ambitious rulers and greedy commercial interests 
will be unable to plunge nations into unnecessary 
conflicts. 

Yours truly, 

W. J. Bryan. 

This letter is printed by permission of Mrs. Ruth 
Bryan Owen, the writer's daughter. "Ambitious 
rulers" — "greedy commercial interests" — "un- 
necessary conflicts" — not quite the language, per- 
haps, for the occasion. When it was read, there 
may have been a faint sense of relief that after all 



214 



CARL LAEMMLE 



it had not come in time for the Christmas edition. 
For Laemmle was now in the war; as the dor- 
mouse put it, well in. 

A belligerent, not in arms, Laemmle behaved 
according to the general code, which operates 
crudely but, nevertheless, effectively. But when 
the American patriot had no further occasion for 
his patriotism, the little Laupheim boy asserted 
himself again, and succour had to be sent to those 
friendly Wiirttemberger and Bavarian people who 
were in the grip of ruin and despair. After the 
war, Laemmle went back to see Germany. He 
had also started in the Saturday Evening Post a 
regular weekly column as a publicity medium for 
Universal, a column which has since become fa- 
mous in the film world. On his return to America, 
he put this column to a very remarkable use. In 
1923, when anti-German feeling in America, as 
in other allied countries, showed few signs of 
abating, Laemmle opened a campaign for the re- 
lief of the people from whom he had come. He 
sent large sums of money from his private fortune 
to Laupheim, stipulating always that they should 
be divided equally between Jewish and Christian 
families. But private benefactions were not 
enough. Laemmle was the head, indeed, the pro- 
prietor, of a great business that was sensitive in a 
peculiar degree to the fluctuation of public favour. 
For the chief to be known as privately aiding the 
German people was indiscreet ; for him to make a 



CHARACTER 



215 



public declaration and appeal in the matter, and 
to associate these openly with his business inter- 
ests, was, it must have seemed in the common 
view, foolhardy. Laemmle faced the risk. 

The Saturday Evening Post, as is well known, 
reached a public of huge dimensions. "Watch This 
Column" was, and still is, the standing title of 
Laemmle's weekly contribution. And one week, 
late in 1923, this was the column to be watched: 

IT WAS PITIFUL BEYOND WORDS 

I appeal to you, good Samaritans, and to my 
friends and acquaintances throughout the world, 
to send me money and clothing old and new, for 
the stricken people of Germany. I have already dis- 
tributed, partly in person, great amounts of goods 
sent by friends. . . . 

Possibly many of you haven't forgotten the war 
and maybe some hatred still lingers in your hearts, 
yet it is an American trait to forget and forgive, to 
soften and sympathise, when real distress steps over 
the threshold. There is no other nation in the world 
so quick to respond to a call for help. 

Can you imagine going back to your old home 
town and finding your old acquaintances starving — 
the prominent families . . . going frequently with- 
out anything to eat and so utterly bereft of pride 
that they begged you for a dollar or a dime or any- 
thing you would give? That's what happened to 
me last summer, when times were not one-tenth so 
bad as they are to-day. 

The fact that these folks were enemies of America, 
in deed if not in heart — that they were misled by a 



2l6 



CARL LAEMMLE 



fool Kaiser, thirsty for power and compelled to be- 
come a part of his war machine, all slipped from 
my mind and the desire to help became uppermost. 
Yet, I am an American who profoundly respects all 
American beliefs and institutions. 

Will you help? Will you send me any kind of 
help you can afford — food, clothing, hats, shoes, 
money? All the employees of Universal are con- 
tributing, and weekly we are sending cases of sup- 
plies to Germany. We all feel that it is incumbent 
upon us in the name of Humanity. 

Carl Laemmle, 

President. 

UNIVERSAL 

Laemmle continued the campaign for a year or 
more, and, if it comes to that, there are many 
families in Laupheim to-day who are on his 
monthly pay-roll. In 1924 the Saturday Evening 
Post was still carrying his appeals: 

I am doing everything possible for the starving 
stricken people of Germany. Will you help? Will 
you send money, or clothing, or anything that you 
can afford? I will distribute it at my own expense. 
Conditions over there are pitiful in the extreme. 
Will you forget the war and remember only the 
call of humanity? 

and again: 

Have you sent me a donation for the starving 
people of Germany, food, clothes, money? I am 



CHARACTER 



217 



distributing everything at my own expense. Will 
you help? Conditions over there are pitiful. 

In the result, some hundreds of cases of ^ood and 
clothing were shipped to Laupheim, Frankfurt, 
Stuttgart, Munich and other cities, all freight 
charges being shared by Universal and the North 
German Lloyd line. Laemmle made it his per- 
sonal concern to see that every necessitous family 
of his near acquaintance in Laupheim received a 
box of provisions monthly. 

It is very nice to be charitable when you are 
rich, to make handsome presents, patronise the 
subscription lists, and respond generously to all 
the casual solicitations that come your way. If 
you are exceedingly rich, it is doubtless even more 
satisfactory to do the thing on a large scale, or- 
ganising your endowments for the relief of suffer- 
ing and the advancement of mankind, appointing 
competent and highly paid administrators of your 
benefactions. But when, with a great and very 
exacting business on your hands, you commit 
yourself over a period of some years to the personal 
supervision of a charity, difficult to collect and even 
more difficult to distribute; when you make your- 
self daily responsible for the even-handed ad- 
justment of its very exorbitant detail, demanding 
endless tact and judgment — then the satisfaction, 
one may suppose, must become a very strenuous 
experience. Laemmle, characteristically, chose the 



2l8 



CARL LAEMMLE 



exacting way. He was not content to hand over the 
considerable spare cash at his disposal and leave it 
at that ; not content to lend his support obscurely 
to charitable funds that had no business connec- 
tions to lose. He must give money, lots of it ; but 
he must further give time, energy, thought, and 
he must throw prudence overboard. All his life 
he had fought things through, and he fought this 
through as the rest. Everyone will tell you that 
there is no friendlier fellow — mostly it would be 
"little fellow" — then Uncle Carl. But his is no 
soft, easy nature rousing to sudden energies. For 
all its simple generosities, it keeps taut, vigilant, 
ready to attack. His has never been the courage 
that "mounteth with occasion." His German re- 
lief campaign was the work of a steadily intrep- 
id will. 

The Saturday Evening Post weekly column, of 
which mention has been made, is itself another 
example of Laemmle's restless determination to 
make difficulties for himself if he thinks that to 
overcome them will be to the advantage of his 
schemes. It takes the form of a personal letter to 
picture-goers, informing them of current activi- 
ties at Universal City, and inviting their co-opera- 
tion in the way of advice, suggestions, and criti- 
cism. The consequence is an enormous mail from 
every quarter of the States, containing proposals 
of every conceivable kind, mostly futile and 
very long-winded. To take one class of 



CHARACTER 



219 



correspondent alone. Even the smallest theatri- 
cal enterprise is embarrassed by the inces- 
sant stream of unsolicited manuscripts that 
flows into the office. I once heard Harley Gran- 
ville-Barker relate of Bernard Shaw that at a din- 
ner-party he found himself sitting next to an un- 
distinguished stranger, who was a little put out of 
countenance by the honour. After a silence, the 
great dramatist asked confidentially, "What be- 
came of that five act verse tragedy of yours?" His 
companion, a little startled, replied, "Oh — noth- 
ing. . . . But how did you know I had written 
one?" "I didn't," answered Mr. Shaw, "but it was 
a pretty safe opening, wasn't it?" 

Run a group of community players or a Sun- 
day evening producing society, and see what hap- 
pens to you in this respect without any advances 
on your own part. Laemmle is the head of one of 
the largest producing enterprises in the world. In 
a paper that has a three million circulation and 
probably five times as many readers, he asks 
authors, and particularly young or unknown 
authors, to send him in their plays, stories, scen- 
arios; and, if you have lively gifts that way, you 
can imagine what happens to him. If one person 
in ten has written a play, story, or scenario, each 
of the other nine knows of a play, story, or scen- 
ario that he can warmly recommend. And then 
there are the multitudes who cherish a burning 
desire to see a given star in a given part, who 



220 



CARL LAEMMLE 



think that a given star is a dumb-bell, who 
would like to know something about the domestic 
lives of stars, how much stars earn and whether 
stars make good mothers, who would like three 
best poses of a star at ten cents each and will Mr. 
Laemmle please choose these personally, in con- 
sultation with the star if possible, who can tell 
Mr. Laemmle that the motion pictures are sal- 
vation, who can tell him that they are cheese- 
cakes. 

A large staff is employed in sorting out this 
mass of correspondence. There is a certain amount 
of negligible rubbish, but far less than might be 
supposed. A few letters contain suggestions of 
some interest, and these are put aside for Laemm- 
le's attention. But not these only; there are thou- 
sands a year that offer some plausible occasion for 
establishing personal contact between Universal 
and its patrons, and these too are all filed for the 
chief's desk, not to be removed until each one has 
been marked with the familiar "Noted. C. L." in 
blue pencil. And not only that; every one of these 
must be answered, in a large number of cases at 
Laemmle's own dictation, and in every case over 
his signature. There are many business men of 
great interests who cannot bear to depute any part 
of their authority. Laemmle is not of these. He 
refuses to regard his employees as added re- 
sponsibilities ; he pays them well to take responsi- 
bilities off his own mind. But he knows where to 



CHARACTER 



221 



stop, and it is short of letting any of these anxious 
correspondents think that they are beneath the 
notice of the Universal chief himself. How is 
this for say three minutes from the crowded hours 
of a long day with all its major problems of ad- 
ministration and policy? — 

To 

Iowa. 

Dear Mr. 

I hope you will pardon the delay in answering 
your interesting letter. The huge volume of mail I 
have been receiving of late has made it impossible 
for me to give the correspondence my earlier atten- 
tion. 

I am glad to have the opportunity of discussing 
with you some of the story material you suggested 
we consider. 

The first three will have to be left out, because 
they are the property of another company. I refer 
to "Cappy Ricks," "The Understanding Heart," and 
"Turn to the Right." 

We are going to read Peter B. Kyne's story, "Love 
and War" which is appearing in the Country 
Home, and I will let you know at another writing 
just what we think of it. It occurred to me, how- 
ever, that it may be too soon to try to put on the 
market another golf picture. One was produced not 
long ago. However, we shall see. 

I wish you were able to see more of our pictures, 
especially since you have been kind enough to ex- 
press your interest in them. Do you ever journey to 
nearby cities for your screen entertainment? Per- 



222 



CARL LAEMMLE 



haps if I had this information, I could direct you to 
some theatres showing our films. 
Thanking you again for your letter. 

Cordially, 

Carl Laemmle, 

President. 

An ordinary enough letter in itself, but extra- 
ordinary in its circumstances. Mr. of 

Iowa, receiving it, feels, very naturally that Carl 
Laemmle thinks him quite an important person. 
Which, in fact, Carl Laemmle does do. And there 
are persons who have to be given the same com- 
forting assurance at the rate of dozens a day. They 
tell their friends that they have had a letter from 
Carl Laemmle, who thinks it by no means im- 
probable that he will have to write another later 
on. They constitute themselves as scouts up and 
down the country, reporting on the reception of 
Universal pictures, spreading Universal news, re- 
garding themselves as Universals agents, and all 
because they have had a civil letter not from the 
Universal Pictures Corporation, but from Carl 
Laemmle, President. 

There are thousands of them, tens of thousands 
from Miami to Seattle and San Diego to Cape 
Cod. It is the most effective publicity device in the 
business, and it is this because it has a foundation 
of unaffected cordiality. It is not a mere catch- 
penny trick. There really is nobody who is beneath 



CHARACTER 



223 



the notice of this avid, genuinely democratic mind. 
An amateur of mechanics submits a scheme for 
perspective microphony. "Noted. C. L." And then, 
"I have talked the matter over with some of my 
associates, but it is the consensus of opinion that 
the idea is impractical." Nor is it civilly just that 
and "thank you." It proceeds: "I more than ap- 
preciate your interest, however, and shall be very 
glad indeed to hear from you at any time when 
suggestions come to mind." Here's asking for 
trouble indeed. But not so for Laemmle. He actu- 
ally will be very glad indeed to hear again. When 
Laemmle writes one of these letters, he wants his 
correspondent's quarters or dollars at the box of- 
fice, but he also wants his good-will for its own 
sake. In a man of so many amusing and vivid con- 
tacts, it may seem a strange partiality; but there 
it is, and under the touch, perhaps we should say 
in the grip, of his informing genius, it has been 
the secret of his success. 



CHAPTER XIV 



THE ''NEW UNIVERSAL" 

In 1920, Carl Laemmle and R. H. Cochrane 
bought out P. A. Powers, the third controlling 
interest in Universal, and as president and vice- 
president took over the sole proprietorship. In 
1925, the corporation issued its first stock to the 
public, and became established on the New York 
Stock Exchange. 

These two men made Universal, and they have 
kept the name in honour. At the International 
Sales Convention held in May, 1930, Will H. 
Hays addressed a great meeting of the Universal 
Exchanges. In case there should be anyone who 
does not know it, Will Hays on these matters is a 
witness of unique authority. When he was elected 
by the united film industry to his great position as 
commander-in-chief of moving picture interests, 
he came from a long record of public sendee that 
had finally elevated him to Cabinet rank, and he 
was chosen as a man whose favour could never be 
under suspicion, and whose word would be every- 
where respected. I recently had a glimpse of him 
in Berlin when he was engaged in negotiations of 

224 



THE "NEW UNIVERSAL" 



225 



peculiar delicacy and of critical importance to the 
trade at large. I can only say that any Cabinet 
would be graced and fortified by such a man. 
Here was a mind whose compliment carried 
weight, a responsible, experienced mind, used to 
great affairs and shrewd in its enthusiasms. In 
opening his address, Mr. Hays said : 

Mr. Robert H. Cochrane, the vice-president of 
your Company, is the member for Universal on our 
Board of Directors. He has never failed to help 
toward right purposes. From the time we began 
eight years ago until this hour, I honour him in his 
position, I love him as a friend. He is a very dis- 
tinguished citizen, and a very thorough man. 

To Mr. Laemmle I stand at attention in respect, 
regard and affection. Laemmle's name, Uncle Carl 
Laemmle's name, his stamina and integrity have 
meant very, very much to me, my friends, to 
this work, to this Company, and to the whole in- 
dustry. I just hope that he lives another sixty odd 
years and that he stays always in the business. 

Those are certificates of character that any man 
might covet. And, from that source, they could 
go only by desert. 

While the story of Universal City from the time 
of its inauguration in 19 15 until the present day 
has been a credit to the industry, it has not been 
one of quite uninterrupted prosperity. In these 
later years of super-production, the advance com- 
mitments of a company on its pictures are so 



226 CARL LAEMMLE 

heavy that one or two box-office failures may make 
serious inroads on the reserves built up during 
periods of success. Further, the advent of the 
sound machine meant for everyone in the business 
a total revaluation of assets and policy. It was to 
consider this situation that the New York Con- 
vention above cited was chiefly concerned. For two 
days the chairman of the Convention had been 
expounding the new Universal programme in 
great detail to the salesmen of the corporation, 
who had assembled from all parts of the world. 
The report of these early sessions covers a hundred 
and fifty pages of type, and I had not supposed 
that a business exposition could be so absorbing. 
For myself, I began to read it in duty, and con- 
tinued in pleasure. The chairman in his address 
ranged freely over the topics of finance, salesman- 
ship, business ethics, discipline, past mistakes, and 
the future of moving pictures in general and of 
Universal in particular. If I had been a member of 
his audience, he might sometimes have provoked 
me to insubordinate questions, but he certainly 
would never for a moment have lost hold on my 
attention. 

Mostly, too, it would have been the attention of 
approval. The company had discarded for ever the 
principle of mass-production; in future relatively 
few pictures were to be made, but these were to 
be of the highest excellence that the resources of 
Universal City could achieve. "All Quiet on the 



THE "NEW UNIVERSAL" 



227 



Western Front" and "The King of Jazz" were to 
be the first redemptions of the pledge. In pur- 
suance of this policy the heads of Universal had 
staked a very large part of their own capital and of 
that under their control. It may here be said paren- 
thetically that since the Convention in April the 
hopes founded on the campaign have been realised 
beyond all expectations, but our present interest is 
to reconstruct the psychological mood in which 
the Convention actually met. 

The revolution proposed was radical. A great 
army of salesmen were being asked to put on the 
market a product of which they had little or no 
antecedent knowledge. Where they had sold a 
dozen "Programme" pictures for ephemeral use 
month by month, they would now have to sell one 
picture that must hold the market for a year. An 
entirely novel aspect of salesmanship was being 
presented to them, one that demanded different, 
and rarer, qualities. The chairman had to be 
tactful. It was likely that among the eager staff 
gathered before him there were some individuals 
who would prove unequal to the new occasion. 
For them, the future was a bleak one ; but it was 
not the chairman's business to allow apprehensions 
to chill the ardours of his call to action. For two 
days he spoke on a note of high enthusiasm, and 
then, on the second afternoon, in the words of the 
report, "As Mr. Laemmle entered the room, the 
audience arose and applauded." 



228 



CARL LAEMMLE 



The note had risen to a yet higher pitch. There 
was not a man among them who did not regard 
their great little chief with affection. They were on 
tip-toe for him. They expected him to say some 
crowning word in the vein of challenging opti- 
mism that had been so effectively employed hour 
after hour by their dynamic chairman. Instead, he 
said: 

I never knew how tired I was until I arrived here 
yesterday. I found out I was completely worn out. 
I am not sick, but just worn out. I am not fit to talk 
to you. When I talk to you I want to be fit. 

He sat down. For a moment it was all a little 
disconcerting, but for a moment only. The minds 
of the audience flashed back over the story of the 
past twenty years. Never in the business had there 
been such a fighter, never, indeed, had American 
industry known a stiff er, truer spirit. Very well ; 
if he said he was tired for the moment, that was all 
right. It was just like him to say it, simply like 
that. No simulation of a brave front, no easy bid 
for sympathetic admiration. Just a tired little 
gentleman saying to his friends, "I am tired to- 
day — I shall be all right to-morrow — I'll speak to 
you then." There was nothing to be alarmed about 
— they knew the reserves of stamina that had 
never failed their leader, and were not going to 
fail him yet. As he sat down they could have 



THE "NEW UNIVERSAL" 



229 



hugged him. And then followed a notable little 
dialogue, reported verbatim thus: 

Chairman. I think it is lovely of you to come 
down. The fact that you came when we didn't ex- 
pect you is a fitting sign. You look very well to-day. 

Mr. Laemmle. I am tired, otherwise I am all 
right. 

Chairman. I won't embarrass you. We have the 
minutes over here. We have said some things that 
we hope you won't mind. 

Mr. Laemmle. Bring in the contracts and never 
mind the other stuff. 

The chairman returned to his charge, and 
resumed the high-spirited strain that had been 
dominant since the opening of the Convention. 
He talked through the rest of Sunday, he talked or 
led the talk through Monday and on till Tuesday 
noon. He was addressing not only his staff of 
American salesmen, but also the foreign chiefs 
from most of the countries that were consumers of 
Universal product. The opportunity was there, 
and it would not come again. He had to send 
these men back to their work, some to peddle a 
small territory, some to supervise the sales of a 
continent, with a burning conviction that their 
world had been enlarged and their mission exalted 
by the new policy that he was disclosing to them. 
The situation called for candour, and he supplied 
it. The fact was that Universal, having for years 
led the way in picture production, had more 



230 



CARL LAEMMLE 



recently fallen behind several of its great com- 
petitors in this increasingly important matter of 
quality. The new market, such was the theme, 
was no longer willing to absorb unlimited quanti- 
ties of the conventional two or even five-reel stuff 
that had become a staple product of the Universal 
City studios. The decision had been made to start 
afresh, and now a new compact was to be made 
between the corporation and its salesmen. Univer- 
sal City had led once, now it was to lead again. 
For a time it had been outstripped by rivals who 
had bettered its own example, but example now 
it was once more to become to the industry. 

The undertaking on the part of the executive 
and producing staff in California was this; the 
future product of Universal City should be the 
best that brain and money could devise. They 
had the equipment, they had the technical ability, 
and they would spend freely, even prodigally, to 
secure the co-operation of the best creative in- 
telligence that could be induced to work for the 
screen. The chairman insisted that the day of 
the trade-mark had passed. In the modern market 
no man could sell pictures merely because they 
were Universal pictures. The time had been when 
that could be done; it had gone. But the pledge 
that he now gave, on behalf of Carl Laemmle 
and his Californian associates, was that in future 
a salesman who was asked to sell a Universal 
picture should be asked always to sell a picture 



THE "NEW UNIVERSAL" 231 

that in its kind would survive the test of quality 
against any rivalry. That was Laemmle's part of 
the compact. Their part was to go out with an 
evangelical faith in the new enterprise. For three 
days the chairman admonished them on this text 
with an onset that was no less evangelical itself. 
And then, on Tuesday afternoon, "Mr. Carl 
Laemmle and R. H. Cochrane entered the Con- 
vention," and again "the members arose and ap- 
plauded." Making way for the president, the 
chairman said: 

I have worked for him for a long time. We have 
gotten along. He has been a very fine boss and a 
very fine gentleman to work with, and above all he 
has had the vision to carry on when all the others 
failed. I think Mr. Laemmle is by far the dean of 
this industry. He knows how I feel, and he knows 
how you feel. Mr. Laemmle, the floor is yours. 

"The members arose and applauded." The 
speech that followed was remarkable. Many long 
years ago, at his Family Theatre in Chicago he 
had been much inconvenienced by an epidemic 
of gate-crashing. A carefully selected vigilance 
committee, under the muscular leadership of 
"Hirschie" Miller and "Nails" Norton, had sup- 
pressed the outbreak. Well: he had been forty 
then; now he was sixty-three, and, it seemed, 
there were difficulties still. Here he was, facing 
an audience of men upon whose capability in 



232 CARL LAEMMLE 

a crisis — their good-will was not to be questioned 
— depended the fate of his life's work. If they 
failed him, it meant the end; not personal ruin, 
but the end of the hopes based on a sudden but 
serious decision, the end of that rich and shin- 
ing promise which was already his son's inher- 
itance. Once before, interviewing Sam Stern in 
Chicago, his mind had made those rapid evolu- 
tions that are common to such occasions.This 
putting it to the touch, to win or to lose it all — 
was that very prudent when you were well past 
sixty? Anyway, they had always been telling him 
that he was not prudent, and he had never yet 
failed to vindicate his risks. He was not going to 
fail now — he was confident, and justly, that his 
New Era would prosper. But now he had to 
speak to the men by whom its prosperity must be 
built. He started by saying that neither the chair- 
man nor Cochrane had been able to suggest any 
new topics to him, whereupon the vice-president 
interpolated the remark: "You have used all my 
stuff." That, too, carried the mind back twenty 
odd years, to the Flimco manifesto. Laemmle 
proceeded: 

When I was here Sunday, your chairman intro- 
duced you men one by one, and he gave every one 
a marvellous send-off, which, of course, pleased me 
very much. Nevertheless, I could not help but do a 
little thinking, to the effect that if . . . all of you are 
as wonderful as he told me you were, why in hell 



THE "NEW UNIVERSAL" 



233 



[the expletive, strangely enough, was unusual] didn't 
we get the business this year ? That is what I would 
like to know. 

It does not appear from the official report that 
at this point anyone arose and applauded. 
Laemmle went on: 

We haven't done well lately. I am not going to 
say anything more on the subject, because you will 
see a few tears if I do. I am not going to talk long, 
but I just want you to know that I am not at all happy 
at what has happened in the last two years or so. 

He was not being melodramatic about tears, 
and he was blaming nobody. After all, he him- 
self had controlled Universal, and if there was 
any blame on hand, he knew well enough where 
to place it. The responsibility was his, but, never- 
theless, why in hell didn't we get the business 
this year? 

We can break our necks out at Universal City 
and the Home Office, and scheme and plan and 
work twenty-six hours a day, but if you men don't 
do your share of the work, it all goes for nothing. 

Still nobody applauded. It was, in fact, an ex- 
ceedingly quiet audience that was listening to him 
now. He was not scolding them, but he was be- 
ing the realist, or, more precisely, the practical 
idealist that he had always been. It made them 
feel rather uncomfortable, but they liked it. These 



234 



CARL LAEMMLE 



men, some of them clever, some not so clever, 
some far sighted, some not, were good servants. 
They did not suffer from the curious malaise 
that incites some people, when their infallibility 
is questioned, to give in their notice. None of 
them had any intention of leaving Universal un- 
less they were pushed out or translated to higher 
things. In fact they knew the value of their jobs, 
and proposed to keep them. And here was the 
good boss telling them that the credentials in 
general were not quite in order. There was no 
menace in his tones, but there was inevitably a 
touch of it in his words. It was neither ugly nor 
reproachful, but it played like a cool air upon the 
somewhat excited temperature of his audience. 
He too wanted to encourage them, to paint the 
future in attractive colours, but first he was scru- 
pulous that, whatever might be the paradise to 
come, they should not make a fool's paradise of 
the Convention. The warning was given, simply, 
incisively. The draught that it let into the room 
was a wholesome one, and every listener was 
braced by it. And then the speaker passed to more 
comfortable topics. 

He confirmed the pledge given by the chair- 
man. Universal City would provide them with 
the best that it could do, and in giving effect to 
this policy there would be no compromise. 
Naturally, he could not undertake always to 
send them out with goods that would sweep the 



THE "NEW UNIVERSAL" 



235 



market. If anyone could prove himself to be 
eighty per cent right in his forecasts of what 
would and what would not sell, he, as president 
of Universal, was prepared to pay that man a 
salary of a hundred thousand dollars a year. 
"That is a standing offer. What do I hear? Is 
there anyone in the room that can do it?" There 
was not. 

He then took up the antique theme of what the 
public wants. "I don't care what you want or 
what I want, it is what the public wants that 
counts, because in the end they have to pay and 
they have the say." But he followed this with the 
sensible confession. "Nobody knows." Laemmle 
himself had learnt that long enough since, and 
he had learnt too that the only rational guiding 
principle was to do the best you know. That was 
the fixed intention of Universal thenceforth. At 
the same time, his reference to public demands 
was by no means irrelevant. These men to whom 
he was speaking were moving about making a 
thousand contacts, and he wanted them to know 
that no impression that they formed of the popu- 
lar mood was too insignificant to be reported to 
headquarters. Let them write to him as often as 
they liked. Any suggestion they made would have 
his personal consideration, and even when it came 
to nothing it would remind him of their active 
interest in Universal affairs. He liked to be re- 
minded of that. 



236 



CARL LAEMMLE 



It was the Laemmle of "Watch This Column" 
in the Saturday Evening Post speaking, and now 
more intimately to a more intimate audience. He 
was not telling them what a fine group of fellows 
they were; he was telling each man individually 
that he was Carl Laemmle's friend and colleague 
in a great enterprise. This was the sort of encour- 
agement that really told. Every man there took 
the assurance directly to himself, convinced of 
its good faith. The conviction was sound. Every 
man was made to feel important, because in fact 
to Laemmle he was important. There was nothing 
here of the austere and slightly patronising note 
upon which votes of thanks to the employees are 
passed at annual meetings of shareholders. This 
was not the president of Universal condescending 
upon his staff; it was Uncle Carl, who had sold 
nine-ninety-eights in Oshkosh, talking confiden- 
tially to a very miscellaneous lot of nephews. 

Then he talked business detail: "don't wait 
with your selling season until the other fellow has 
sold his merchandise." He talked about dynamite. 
"You don't have to take off your hat to anybody. 
You have merchandise as good as the best. I 
want to be modest about it." And in conclusion: 

From now on, don't make a bee-line to the dump 
when you are selling our pictures. [There was no 
tension now, and this brought "Applause."] Go to 
the best houses first and the dumps last. We want 
to sell to everybody, but we have to have the houses 



THE "NEW UNIVERSAL" 



237 



that can pay the most money first. If we can't get 
them, we might just as well quit now. We have to 
sell to the very best theatres in America. I am going 
to watch that, and particularly when the contracts 
begin to roll in. If you don't sell to the best theatres 
in America, you might just as well throw up the 
sponge now. [An interpolation: "In the world."] 
That is right. I forgot the foreign contingent. In 
other words, get every last dollar that the law 
allows, and then some. That is all, gentlemen. 
Thank you very much. 

He had finished. He had been talking for a 
very short time, hardly more than a quarter of 
an hour. It was mostly a dry, matter-of-fact little 
speech, delivered without flourish or rhetorical 
effect. "I am not a speaker," he told them, "I can 
think a lot better than I can talk." In fact, he 
dislikes public speaking, and avoids it whenever 
he can; its graces have never come easily to him, 
and he is frank with himself about it as in every- 
thing. Save for a passage in which he referred 
to the strain of over-work that had kept his son 
away from the Convention, he said nothing that 
had an emotional colouring in the words, and 
even then he kept himself humorously in hand: 
"The poor boy is pretty nearly all in. ... I 
never in my whole life saw anybody work as hard 
as he did, night after night until twelve, one, 
two, three, four and five in the morning. I am 
sorry to say I have no influence over him. He has 
a head of his own. I can't do anything with him." 



238 



CARL LAEMMLE 



For the rest, it was all restrained, literal state- 
ment. "We are starting a new policy, a new Uni- 
versal, so to speak. It is making its bow to the 
industry. We are going to see what happens." 
He had made his points with the severest verbal 
economy. "I am going to watch the sales as I 
never watched them before. I will know 
what every man is doing from week to week." 
The nephews looked at each other. Only once 
did he indulge, discreetly, in compliment: "All 
I want to say is that we have an organisation we 
can well be proud of, and it is being strengthened 
all the time." Was there, even in this, a hint of 
new and other nephews — be on your best be- 
haviour, and all that? There was no word of 
moral uplift, business integrity, the social mission 
of the cinema. 

In future, we are not going to make million dol- 
lar pictures unless the subject in hand calls for a 
million dollars. We are going to spend on a picture 
whatever is necessary to make it box office. It doesn't 
make any difference to you, and you don't care, 
whether a picture costs a nickel or a million dollars, 
so long as it is box office. Is that so? (Applause.) 

"How shocking," may murmur the amateurs 
of Stravinsky, Proust, or Van Gogh, cultivating 
their enthusiasm on pounds or dollars made in 
markets where buy low and sell high is both 
creed and gospel. But how stupid of the amateurs. 



THE "NEW UNIVERSAL" 



239 



Carl Laemmle may not know Stravinsky and 
Proust very well, but he has a living knowledge 
of Wagners and Beethoven and Schiller. And even 
in terms of the screen he could speak in other 
than box office language. In his speech he had 
said: 

When we succeed in what we are trying to do, 
you will have a regular walk-away from the others. 
[You will be selling] the different kind of picture, 
like our "All Quiet on the Western Front" ... if 
there was anything in my life I am proud of, it is 
this picture. It is, to my mind, a picture that will 
live for ever . . . 

That is as may be; but, right or wrong in his 
divination, Laemmle here was speaking with 
the pride of a man who has done something for 
faith as well as dollars. The realism of "Is it box- 
office?" was, in other words, inseparably bound 
to his own incurable idealism after all. But the 
purpose of his Convention speech was to stress 
the realism and nothing else. Whatever place 
there might be in his industry for spirited ad- 
ventures, there was no place for prophets crying 
in the wilderness. With this new policy of quality 
instead of quantity, he told them, "We cannot 
do the business we ought to do . . . unless we 
sell a tremendous volume of every picture that 
is released. You understand that, don't you?" 
"Yes" they assured him, they did understand. 



240 



CARL LAEMMLE 



That was all he wanted. Let them realise that 
the new super-product of Universal City must be 
on a scale beyond anything that they had hitherto 
attempted, and all would be well. Without that, 
they would all go out of business. Therefore, box- 
office was the theme. This was not the place to 
advance one's personal taste for Beethoven and 
Schiller ; not the place even to make more than a 
casual reference to one's pride in the intellectual 
or artistic work of this or that picture. The appeal 
was couched in no lofty strain. Just this: The 
market was ready for quality production; Uni- 
versal City was ready to supply it; let them, his 
audience, see to it that it was sold, "for the last 
dollar that the law allows, and then some." 

And yet, that fifteen minutes of unheroic ora- 
tory was charged with a far deeper significance 
than appears in the external aspect of its unassum- 
ing periods. It was, indeed, quick with a man's 
character, and that man a born leader. He spoke 
in a materialistic idiom ; but there was not a man 
among his hearers who needed to be told that 
through a long and often desperately straitened 
career he had never sacrificed a principle to dol- 
lars. There was not a man who did not know that 
their chief cared as passionately for the integrity 
of his Universal City as any Prelate for the in- 
tegrity of his See, or Minister for that of his Cabi- 
net. When the chief had finished speaking, the 
chairman, in thanking him, said, "I think I might 



THE "NEW UNIVERSAL" 



241 



add that it is your pleasure at this time that you 
are now going to make the kind of pictures that 
you have been wanting to make all your life. Is 
that right?" And Laemmle answered, "Right." 

Laemmle's audience, in fact, knew their man. 
They knew the dry, not to say sly, manner that 
could be assumed at will. He was generous in 
praise of good work, but he could be withering 
when it wasn't good. Taken to see a film alleged 
to be funny, he had been asked at the end what 
he thought of it. Not much. "But, Mr. Laemmle, 
you were asleep most of the time." "Yes; I am 
always awakened at once by laughter." He was 
known for his personal generosities, but a stranger 
in his office, beginning to load him with extrava- 
gant compliment, was cut short by, "Sir, you ex- 
aggerate. How much do you want?" His audi- 
ence knew these things. But they knew the rest 
as well. They had a grateful sense of security in 
serving under one of whom Rupert Hughes said 
to me when I told him I was going to write this 
book: "That's good. Carl Laemmle is the whitest 
man in the industry." 



CHAPTER XV 



CARL LAEMMLE JUNIOR AND 
THE FUTURE 

The Chairman, who presided over the events 
of the preceding chapter, was in close association 
with Carl Laemmle as chief over a period of six 
years. He learnt his habits; knew, for example, 
how any journey had to be equipped with frugal 
but essential rations of black bread and sweet 
butter. Also he learnt the more ponderable ways 
of his mind and character. It so happens that 
since the Convention of April, 1930, this gentle- 
man has left Universal, quite amicably, for other 
employment. He tells me that not only was 
Laemmle the most memorable figure in the early 
days of motion-picture development, but that his 
hold on the imagination of this extraordinary 
microcosm has at no time diminished since. 

When Laemmle made the fifteen minute speech 
of which a summary has been given, his business 
life was, indeed, but then emerging from a con- 
vulsion of the most alarming nature. The decision 
to reorganise Universal policy has been noted as 
being sudden. It was; but this does not mean 

242 



CARL LAEMMLE JUNIOR AND THE FUTURE 243 

that it was made without long and anxious con- 
sideration of the argument for and against re- 
form. A mind so constituted as Laemmle's could 
ultimately come to but one conclusion, and when 
that conclusion was reached the mandate for re- 
construction was immediate and comprehensive. 
But in the meantime there had been a period of 
demoralising indecision. Robert H. Cochrane, 
who followed Laemmle in the list of Convention 
speakers, put the case with an American wit 
that would have delighted Abraham Lincoln: 

I have lived out of town for about seventeen 
years, out in the country. When I want to stay in 
town and go to the theatre, Mrs. Cochrane drives in 
and brings a suit-case with my evening clothes. I 
change up in the office and I look darn pretty when 
I'm through. Last night I got all ready to dress and 
everything was there except a very necessary article 
— there was no pants. I had on a dark suit, very 
much like this one, so I bluffed it out. I wore the 
pants to my business suit and my upper works were 
all legitimate. 

That made me think of Universal. We have been 
going around with soup and fish on the upper part 
and a misfit pair of pants, for a number of years. 
From now on it is full dress from Universal in the 
class of pictures we are going to make and in the 
way you men are going to handle them. 

The confusion of taste with fashion is a com- 
mon error. They are frequently regarded as being 



244 



CARL LAEMMLE 



one and the same thing, whereas they are almost 
antithetical. Taste is rare and constant; fashion 
prevalent and mutable. Keats and Cotman living 
were not popular, but authentic taste knew the 
great poems and the great drawings as surely in 
the eighteen-twenties as in the nineteen-twenties. 
The fact that at the earlier date many people of 
intelligent culture did not recognise the great- 
ness merely indicates the limitations of their taste. 
Their successors to-day recognise the greatness 
only because it is recommended to them by the 
cumulative best judgment of a hundred years. 
But fashion is of a far wider, far more ephemeral 
scope. It is unsafe to say of any fashion that it 
may not presently be revived for a season, but 
of none is it possible to believe that it will be 
durable. No one can accuse me of antiquated 
taste for liking the Ode to a Nightingale or Greta 
Bridge, but if I walk down Bond Street wearing 
Dundreary weepers, or, on hearing somebody's 
Blues, declare my musical preference for Ta-ra- 
ra-boom-de-ay, I must expect to be rated as an 
eccentric. 

Moving-pictures hitherto have been under the 
jurisdiction not of taste but of fashion. Mechani- 
cal progress alone has been enough to throw the 
sensation of one year into the discard of the next. 
And the popular nature of the fashion has ef- 
fected an even wilder fluctuation. I suppose a ten 
pound offer would buy most million dollar films 



CARL LAEMMLE JUNIOR AND THE FUTURE 245 

outright once they have been taken off the cir- 
cuits. So that it is not idle, when we are still but 
a few months from the event, to ask whether 
the promise of that New York Convention has 
been fulfilled. If it has, we need not look for a 
present advance from the standard of fashion to 
that of taste, but we may believe that the new 
policy has been supported by an energy that 
should be sufficient to keep Universal in the van 
of film enterprise for years to come, and, it may 
even be, bring on the day when what is already 
the most democratic and the most popular of all 
entertainment mediums, may become also a 
serious means of creative expression. 

Our Convention chairman, with no personal 
interest now to sever, gave it as his opinion that 
the pledges had unquestionably been made good, 
and that Universal had to-day reasserted its old 
position, not to say supremacy. My own observa- 
tion is an insufficient guide. "All Quiet" is un- 
questionably a superb achievement of its kind, 
its urgency marred but very occasionally by a 
false note. It hardly challenges us at all as a work 
of art; that would necessitate beauty, invention, 
form, which it has not. We cannot think of it 
in terms of masterpieces from Euripides through 
Shakespeare to Ibsen and Shaw. But if it is not 
a great work of art, perhaps not a work of art 
at all, it is a great moving picture. "The King of 
Jazz" seems to me to be another matter alto- 



246 



CARL LAEMMLE 



gether. It certainly is not great in any sense. It 
contains some rubbish, and it is often well below 
the sentimental level of a Viennese wineshop. But 
it has in its better moments, which are many, 
qualities that give it more artistic significance 
than anything that I have seen on the screen. 
Over and over again John Murray Anderson 
uses the medium with genuine wit and inven- 
tion. The picture, as a whole, is lacking in design, 
a consequence probably of its focusing point, but 
the latter part achieves a unity of its own, and 
for the first time in my experience I found my- 
self being stirred by beauty on the screen. "The 
King of Jazz" is definitely an achievement in its 
own gay, inconsequent way, but much more is 
it an indication of what may yet be done with 
men like Anderson to do it. 

Seeing these two pictures, and excited by such 
sincerities, one's misgiving was the sharper when 
they were followed by such an equivocal piece of 
stale melodrama as "East is West." The new 
standard of production again is evident, though 
less notably, but the new vitality is in total eclipse. 
It is hard to believe that, by recent standards, this 
can pass even as good entertainment. Melodrama 
is well enough on the screen, as in the theatre, 
and the most ardent reformer can have no wish 
to exclude so engaging a form from the picture- 
houses. But in the screen version of "East is West" 
the melodrama itself misfires. 




CARL LAEMMLE AND JACK DEMPSEY 




CARL LAEMMLE AND ERICH REMARQUE 



CARL LAEMMLE JUNIOR AND THE FUTURE 247 

One poor picture more or less would be little 
to make a song about, were it not for the par- 
ticular circumstances. "East is West" ought not to 
have been a successor to "All Quiet on the West- 
ern Front" and "The King of Jazz." With that, 
we will forget it, and turn to a more congenial 
topic. 

In 1929, Laemmle, daring as usual, made his 
son, Carl Laemmle Junior, director-in-chief of 
production at Universal City. The young execu- 
tive had just passed his twenty-first birthday, and 
in the gossip of the trade his promotion was at- 
tributed to mere family sentiment. But his father 
though fond was not foolish. He had watched 
the boy anxiously, critically, and believed that 
he would be equal to big things in the business. 
He decided to load him with responsibility early, 
to give him a leading part in the inception and 
launching of a policy of which, it was to be hoped, 
he would one day be in first control. Under pa- 
ternal supervision, which was to become interfer- 
ence only in the case of emergency, Carl Laemmle 
Junior, therefore, was told to go ahead with the 
provision of pictures that would meet the de- 
mands of the new principle of quality produc- 
tion. And his first two pictures under these orders 
were "All Quiet" and "The King of Jazz." He 
chose the subjects, chose the directors, Lewis 
Milestone and John Murray Anderson, did his 
own casting, and co-ordinated both productions 



248 



CARL LAEMMLE 



as they were going through the studios. People 
told him in advance that "All Quiet" was a futile 
choice, that it was a tragedy, that it had no love 
interest, that it was morbid. When "The King 
of Jazz" was being made they called it "Univer- 
sal's Folly." He read Remarque's book over and 
over again, and believed in him. He watched 
Murray Anderson at work, and believed in him. 
He went through with both projects, and at 
twenty-two is responsible for a couple of the most 
remarkable achievements yet claimed by the 
screen, both of them properly honoured by major 
rewards from the Academy of Motion Picture 
Arts and Sciences. 

That is splendid; really splendid. If Carl 
Leammle Junior can accustom the world of popu- 
lar entertainment to that, his own, level of taste, 
he may well justify John Murray Anderson's re- 
mark to me, "The boy is the white hope of the 
films." But I don't believe that "East is West" is 
his taste. It suggests that he has been listening to 
someone who told him that this was the sort of 
thing that people wanted. That is not in accord- 
ance with the bond. What he himself wants is 
all right, and vast audiences have said so of his 
two remarkable productions. He must stand by 
that. And then, if he does not work himself out 
too soon, he will add a brighter lustre to a much 
honoured name. 

Such opportunities have rarely come to so 



CARL LAEMMLE JUNIOR AND THE FUTURE 249 

young a man. He has immense resources, is gifted 
with initiative and intuition, and is prepared to 
back his fancy. His success would be very popular. 
People like him as they like his father, and the 
older men in his employment have a genuine re- 
spect for him. He will make mistakes, and the 
best that could be wished him is that they will 
be mistakes not of timidity and compromise, but 
of courage and imagination. I think they will be, 
and if so, few of them will prove really to be 
mistakes in the end. But every time he releases 
a picture that is below his own taste, he will be 
giving an exceedingly dangerous hostage to for- 
tune. His responsibility is greater, perhaps, than 
he or anyone else at the present time realises. He 
has the gifts and the character to bear it. His use 
of these may have an incalculable influence upon 
the future of moving picture production. I think 
he is to be trusted. 

One of the problems that his generation will 
be called upon to face during the coming years 
is that of film taste and morals. If talking-pictures 
are going to raise their intellectual level, as by 
the evidence of the best things recently done we 
may hope they will, a great part of their potential 
audience will not remain content with the crude 
and elementary standards of taste and morals 
that prevail on the screen at present. At the end 
of 1929, the producing companies met, under the 
presidency of Mr. Hays, to draw up a code regu- 



250 



CARL LAEMMLE 



lating these aspects of picture production. The 
document then delivered to the industry is an 
extraordinary one, and worth some analysis. It 
is a curious reflection of two extreme influences 
that are working upon the corporate mind of the 
picture world. In some clauses it shows a plainly 
confessed anxiety to keep the ignorant, coarse, 
and sensational elements of the business in order ; 
in others it shows a tendency to encourage liberal 
and enlightened progress. The code was the pro- 
duct of a committee of nine, representing the 
many interests of the industry as a whole. Carl 
Laemmle Junior, at the age of twenty-one, was 
one of its members. 

A subsidiary instrument was also drawn, which 
provided for a uniform interpretation of the code. 
Under its provisions a company may submit its 
scripts to the committee, or association, before 
proceding to production. In practice, almost uni- 
versal advantage is taken of this option. Either 
the script is passed as conforming to regulations, 
suggestions are made as to its correction, or it is 
rejected as being unsuitable. This preliminary 
investigation does not bind the producer; it 
merely gives him a lead as to what the committee's 
opinion of the finished picture is likely to be. 
When that in turn is submitted, the endorsement 
is either given or withheld. Although the find- 
ings of the committee have no legal sanction, 
their refusal to pass a picture amounts to a trade 



CARL LAEMMLE JUNIOR AND THE FUTURE 25 1 

veto. The regulations laid down may be sum- 
marised as follows. The preamble reads: 

Motion picture producers recognise the high trust 
and confidence which have been placed in them by 
the people of the world and which have made 
motion pictures a universal form of entertain- 
ment. 

They recognise their responsibility to the public 
because of this trust and because entertainment and 
art are important influences in the life of a nation. 

Hence, though regarding motion pictures pri- 
marily as entertainment without any explicit pur- 
pose of teaching or propaganda, they know that 
the motion picture within its own field of enter- 
tainment may be directly responsible for spiritual 
or moral progress, for higher types of social life, and 
for much correct thinking. 

That is a good beginning. General principles 
of the code are then epitomised, thus: 

1. No picture shall be produced which will lower 
the moral standards of those who see it. Hence the 
sympathy of the audience should never be thrown 
to the side of crime, wrong-doing, evil or sin. 

2. Correct standards of life, subject only to the 
requirements of drama and entertainment, shall be 
presented. 

3. Law, natural or human, shall not be ridiculed, 
nor shall sympathy be created for its violation. 



These are then particularised: 



252 



CARL LAEMMLE 



1. As to crime. It "shall not be presented in such 
a way as to throw sympathy with crime as against 
law and justice. It shall not be presented in such a 
way as to excite imitation." "Brutal killings are not 
to be presented in detail." And then, on a note of 
genuine inspiration, "Revenge in modern times 
shall not be justified." The qualification, "subject 
only to the requirements of drama and entertain- 
ment" will have been noted above. We are, there- 
fore, prepared, in the detailed list of offences against 
the law that are not to be exhibited, to read that 
"The use of liquor in American life, when not re- 
quired by the plot or for characterisation, will not 
be shown. 

2. As to sex. Adultery, scenes of passion, se- 
duction and rape may not be shown unless "essential 
to the plot." And then, more explicitly, and again 
with a liberal thrust, seduction and rape "are never 
the proper subjects for comedy." Sex perversion, 
white slavery, and miscegenation are banned. 

3. — 10. Sundry and reasonably obvious rulings 
under headings "Vulgarity"; "Obscenity"; "Pro- 
fanity"; "Costume"; "Dances"; and "Religion" — no 
ridicule may be thrown on any religious faith, and 
ministers of religion "should not be used as comic 
characters or villains"; "Locations" — "the treatment 
of bedrooms must be governed by good taste and 
delicacy"; and "National Feelings" — no national flag 
may be derided, and "the history, institutions, promi- 
nent people and citizency of other nations shall be 
treated with respect." 

11. Titles. Salacious, indecent, or obscene titles 
shall not be used. 

12. "Repellent Subjects. The following subjects 



CARL LAEMMLE JUNIOR AND THE FUTURE 253 



must be treated within the careful limits of good 
taste: 

(a) Actual hangings or electrocutions as legal 
punishments for crime. 

(b) Third Degree methods. 

(c) Brutality and possibly gruesomeness. 

(d) Branding of people or animals. 

(e ) Apparent cruelty to children and animals. 
(/) The sale of women, or a woman selling her 

virtue. 

(g) Surgical operations. 



It will be seen that the governing intention of 
the code is two-fold; on the one hand not to be 
too arbitrary to the detriment of individual talent 
and invention, and on the other to inculcate a 
general standard of decency and fitness. Mr. 
Hays, referring to the code at the Universal Con- 
vention in 1930, claimed that it was "not censor- 
ship in any sense." Well, though literally that 
may be so, in effect it is censorship plainly 
enough. It is, however, a censorship designed for 
latitude of interpretation. Setting personal preju- 
dice against censorship of any sort aside, there 
is nothing in the moral aspects of the code to 
which reasonable objection can be taken. On the 
whole these, in any case, are consonant with 
public opinion, and censorship or no censorship 
they adjust themselves fairly enough in ordinary 
practice. Also, this code, in its flexibility, is far 
less obnoxious or dangerous than our official cen- 



254 



CARL LAEMMLE 



sorship of the stage in England. It does not, for 
example, say that in no circumstances may the 
Almighty be presented on the stage, and so for- 
bid the production of so lovely and reverent a 
play as "The Green Pastures." 

But the attitude of the code towards taste is a 
matter of far deeper significance. There is not, 
either on the screen or in the theatre, any formid- 
able desire to outrage decency. If censorship of 
every kind were abolished, there would not be 
die smallest risk of audiences being debauched 
by pornography, blasphemy, or sadism. There is 
always the highly vexed question of serious work 
that is subversive in character, but the lot of this 
in the theatres must always be difficult in any 
case, and it is unlikely that the difficulty is af- 
fected either way by censorship. The fact re- 
mains that ninety-nine per cent of the work de- 
signed for the stage or screen, serious and trivial 
alike, desires no offence against the rules of such 
a censorship as that exercised by the code; 
the other one per cent is, it may be said, excluded 
only by the more rigid censorship of our Lord 
Chamberlain's Office in England. 

The danger of demoralised taste is a much 
more insidious thing than the danger of demoral- 
ised morals. Solicitude on this score reveals itself 
more than once in the code, and in his Conven- 
tion speech Mr. Hays said that the purpose of 
the code was "in no sense to lessen the breadth 



CARL LAEMMLE JUNIOR AND THE FUTURE 255 

and vitality of the screen," but rather to increase 
them, and, in precise words, "to insure good 
taste, and that we propose to have." This insist- 
ence on taste cannot have been accidental. It re- 
vealed, I am sure, the recognition of an exceed- 
ingly grave menace. The menace is one that is 
to be found everywhere to-day in the sphere of 
popular entertainment, but it appears in its most 
aggravated form in the sphere of moving-pictures. 
It is the menace not of immorality, but of rank 
and unashamed vulgarity. 

The pictures, says the preamble to the code, 
may be responsible for "much correct thinking." 
The phrase is a notable one. Obviously, direct 
moral teaching was not in the mind of its origina- 
tors. The reference, doubtless, was to a sound 
intellectual habit that the pictures, with their 
unexampled range of popular contact, might help 
to cultivate in the rising democracy of the world. 
The hope is not far fetched. But an essential 
condition of its realisation is a general better- 
ment of taste. Are the picture people seeking to 
effect that? The question, it is clear, much occu- 
pied the minds of that committee as it drafted 
its code under Mr. Hay's presidency. That this 
was so is by far the most encouraging circum- 
stance of the investigation and its subsequent 
rulings. But at present the answer to the question 
is by no means wholly reassuring. 

The issue will have to be fought out to a de- 



256 



CARL LAEMMLE 



cisive conclusion. It may be in time that there 
will be small cinemas, corresponding to the little 
theatres of the repertory movement, where a 
more exclusive type of film is shown to a more 
exclusive type of audience, but, even so, this will 
effect but a fractional percentage of picture pro- 
duction and its public. And all the indications 
lead us to believe that the common custom of the 
industry will be to make each picture in the hope 
of capturing the whole of that public — with the 
possible exception of the infinitesimal group— 
and that there will be no place for several differ- 
ent standards of taste. There is in this no alarmist 
fear that the standard, whatever it is, will be one 
of mechanical mass production. All Greek trage- 
dies were not alike because all Greek tragedies 
were spiritually, intellectually, and imaginatively 
noble. Nor will all pictures be alike because they 
conform in general to, we will not say a finely 
fastidious, but a seemly taste, or to a depraved 
taste. The coming years will have to decide which 
of these it is to be. Whether, for example, it shall 
be the taste of a John Murray Anderson, or the 
taste of a moving-picture journal, I regret to say 
an English one, which recently placed under the 
photograph of a moving-picture star, the legend : 

The Embodiment of "He" . . . 

And then: 



CARL LAEMMLE JUNIOR AND THE FUTURE 257 

Fourteen stone of red meat, bone, brawn, and 
tender heart describes burly . . . 

The writer of this revolting stufT no doubt 
supposes himself to be in touch with his public, 
and that this sort of thing satisfies a popular 
demand. If he is right, if he is right to any con- 
siderable extent, the fact is extremely depressing. 
It is worse than that; it is of the gravest possible 
danger to the future of the picture industry. The 
taste here displayed denotes a much more serious 
malady than any of the things that periodically 
experience the pains and penalties of censorship. 
It is here that Carl Laemmle, Junior, and others 
who with him are going to lead the new genera- 
tion of picture production must recognise by far 
the most formidable obstacle in the path of prog- 
ress. They will have to make such vulgarity im- 
possible, or it will destroy them. There is nothing 
to suggest that in any case the screen will lead 
civilisation, but there is no reason why, under 
proper direction, it should not at least help to 
promote it; and civilisation simply cannot march 
to that tune. 

The hope of the situation I believe to be that 
the fourteen stone of red meat idiom does not 
represent any important body of popular taste at 
all. And I think that there is far too ready an 
inclination in the general establishment of the 
moving-picture industry to undervalue popular 



258 



CARL LAEMMLE 



taste in the same way. Managing directors, branch 
managers, distributors, salesmen, exhibitors, in 
all ranks may be found men given to the same 
pernicious fallacy. We are told that the public 
will tolerate nothing that savours of uplift, in- 
struction, education, and what not. But these 
objections are in fact almost entirely the inven- 
tions not of the public but of the picture men 
themselves. Who objects to uplift? And what does 
uplift mean? I have put the question to several 
gentlemen to whom the word is dear, and not 
one of them has been able to give the faintest 
indication of what it meant, or of what he meant 
by it. What picture, good in itself, has failed be- 
cause of its uplifting quality? Will Carl Laemmle, 
Junior, kindly do the cause of rational films a 
real service by forbidding anyone in his employ 
to use the word "uplift" and all words like it, on 
pain of instant dismissal? Let them be dropped 
in the picture studios and offices, and we shall 
hear no more of them. 

This is a problem that Carl Laemmle hands 
down to his son unsolved. It is one to which he 
himself has, perhaps, in the nature of things 
given no very deep consideration. A man of gentle 
and gracious native instincts, as we have seen, he 
has spent most of his moving-picture life in too 
bitter and primitive a struggle, in too rough an 
environment, to weigh this question in its nicer 
implications. Even his perspectives on the more 



CARL LAEMMLE JUNIOR AND THE FUTURE 259 



conventional morals of the screen have been a 
little distorted at times by practical exorbitancies. 
He has always given his fearless support to such 
aims as those embodied in the code, and yet on 
occasions he could disparage his own admirable 
motives by writing: 

I have made many thousands of pictures during 
the years I have been in this business, and out of all 
the huge list there are less than ten productions 
which cause me regret. They were made in the 
days when I permitted myself to be fooled as to the 
real wants and desires of the great mass of people. 

It will never happen again. 

If an honest confession is good for the soul, then 
the atonement must be on the level. That is why I 
give you my solemn pledge to keep Universal pic- 
tures clean and wholesome. 

Pictures need not be mushy just because they are 
clean. Pictures need not be risque to contain a 
"kick." 

So I am not embarking on strange seas when I 
give my pledge. I am not trying out anything that 
is new to the Universal organisation. But even if it 
were entirely new, I would still know that the pic- 
ture for the clean mind is the only picture that will 
live. 

It is a very human document, with its blend of 
courage and humility, of deference and vision. It 
is such a confession, half opportunist and half 
heroic as might have been made by some Eliza- 



1 



260 



CARL LAEMMLE 



bethan seaman, himself a compound of Glorian- 
ian courtier, pirate, poet, and empire-builder. 

But that other question of taste could hardly be 
assiduously explored in a school accustomed to the 
invasions of drunken drug-store keepers, rough- 
house lumbermen, Trust bullies, and New York 
thugs. This was a refinement of the motion- 
picture problem not beyond Laemmle's scope, 
but beyond his pressing and crucial occasions. He 
took a part second to none in establishing the 
film as an open market, a world-wide industry, 
and a social factor of apparently unlimited po- 
tentiality. At the age of sixty, he faced an entirely 
new situation in the business that he largely had 
created, with undiminished vigour and insight. 
Crowding upon his estate now comes an unfor- 
seen host of creative intelligences. He is not 
abashed, not even surprised. But it no longer 
rests with him to determine what the issue shall 
be. His satisfaction now, a dear one, is in the 
knowledge that he is bequeathing his work and 
his name to one who bids fair to make it worthy. 



CHAPTER XVI 



CHARACTER AGAIN 

In May, 1930, Mr. David Wallach, attorney 
of Brooklyn, wrote the following letter: 

My dear Mr. Laemmle: — 

I found the enclosed in the New Yor\ Evening 
Post of May 13th, and was reminded of a little inci- 
dent concerning you, which might be of interest to 
you. 

Away back in 1907 or 1908, you occupied desk 
space in my father's office in the Flatiron Building, 
New York, in which place you kept a moving- 
picture machine (it was the synchroscope sound 
machine), and I was told that you were at that time 
pioneering in the moving-picture field. I was a small 
boy then, and there were times when you were 
away from the office and not in communication 
with it for weeks at a time. Those were the days 
that I used to come to visit my father and toy with 
your apparatus. 

One night I overheard a conversation between 
my father and my mother, during which conversa- 
tion my father was telling my mother about you 
and your business, and how sorry he felt for you, 
because you apparently were working very hard to 
put your ideas across and were rinding it a slow 

261 



262 



CARL LAEMMLE 



and tedious process. Evidently you must have held 
several conversations with my father about your 
dreams in this industry, as he quoted you a great 
deal. He once said to my mother, to think that in 
this modern age (please remember that this is still 
1907 or 08), a man with your ability and energy, 
to waste his time on a little toy, and if it wasn't for 
the fact that it was a toy, he, himself, would have 
been willing to invest some money, but because he 
had been fooled so many times, he wasn't going to 
put another penny into a business that didn't seem 
to have any future and dealt with a toy, and my 
mother at that time agreed with him. . . . 

Very truly yours, 

David A. Wallach. 

In a subsequent letter, Mr. Wallach added: 

Mr. Laemmle paid the munificent sum of six 
dollars per month for the use of the office in my 
father's suite in the Flatiron Building, New York, 
in 1907 or 1908. I was a youngster then, and when 
I came to the office in Mr. Laemmle's absence, in 
order to be kept out of mischief, I was permitted to 
play with the "magic lantern," as his motion- 
picture machine . . . was . . . called ... I also re- 
member that my father feared very much that he 
might be tempted to invest some of his money in 
the motion-picture business. 

Six dollars a month; and now, twenty-four 
years later, the tenant is chief of a production 
business that has its own city, and main offices 
in Argentine, Brazil, Chili, Peru, India, Japan, 



CHARACTER AGAIN 



263 



Java, the Philippines, Straits Settlements, China, 
Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, Cuba, Panama, 
Venezuela, Austria, Belgium, Czechoslovakia, 
Egypt, France, Germany, Poland, Spain, Sweden, 
and Great Britain, with agents in half a dozen 
other countries, and something like sixty branch 
offices. In any circumstances the record would be 
an imposing one ; when we remember that it has 
been achieved with clean hands, and that it has 
brought to its protagonist not only fortune, but 
the respect, and indeed the affection, of the in- 
dustry through which he has fought a very stub- 
born way, it becomes inspiring. 

Little remains to be added to the business story 
of this career. It has been notable for pertinacity 
and character. As these lines are being written, 
we are within a few months of its twenty-fifth 
anniversary. The chicken farm, the autograph 
album, and the quiet enchantments of Dios 
Dorados, receive more attention in these days 
than formerly. And now there is a grand-daughter 
with yet more peremptory claims. But in the 
California studios or at the Fifth Avenue offices, 
Laemmle still keeps actively in touch with the 
great business that he is committing to the care 
of a new generation. "My success," he once said, 
"is neither luck nor happenchance." It was won 
by that inexhaustible capacity for work that ap- 
pears in all these men of commanding attain- 
ment. Laemmle is one of the fortunate few who 



264 



CARL LAEMMLE 



can contemplate his use of it without misgiving 
or self-reproach. 

The pertinacity has thus declared itself. The 
character is reflected in its fair fame everywhere. 
It was no formal sense of compliment that 
brought together the leaders of motion-picture 
production to do Laemmle honour in 1926 in 
celebration of his twentieth year in the business, 
and brought them together again for the same 
purpose in the following year on his sixtieth 
birthday. At the beginning of this book I spoke 
of the attractions, not infrequently disputed, of 
goodness. After a close scrutiny of this man's 
life story, I find them enhanced. I am simple- 
minded enough to be moved by the plain, un- 
sophisticated goodness of a man who has done 
so much, done it so hardily and often so danger- 
ously. I have talked about him with his employ- 
ees, his competitors, his own people and friends 
of the old days, actors, men-of-letters, picture 
folk from Will Hays to office boys, and I have 
heard but one opinion. Laemmle's anniversaries, 
it is said, cannot come too often, for they are ex- 
cuses to do well by a man who has so steadfastly 
done well by his fellows. 

Laemmle's popularity has two sources, straight 
dealing and a really democratic interest in people, 
all sorts and conditions of people. He likes to 
walk about Universal City, stopping to talk with 
anyone who seems not to be too busy, irrespective 



CHARACTER AGAIN 



265 



of position. It being a nice morning for a stroll, it 
would be pleasant to have a chat with Robert 
Cochrane; or it would be pleasant also to have a 
chat with a boy from the poultry yard or a tele- 
phone operator on her way to lunch. If a foreign 
lad brings him a message, a few minutes will 
be devoted to correcting mispronunciations. 
Laemmle enjoys the society of youngsters with 
the world before them, and no less he enjoys that 
of people who have made the world their own. 
His collection of autographs is symptomatic; he 
has an unaffected and amiable enthusiasm for 
anyone who has done his job notably, no matter 
what it is. Fritz Kreisler, Billy Sunday, Henry 
Ford, Ty Cobb, Charles Evans Hughes, Wool- 
worth of the stores, Charlie Chaplin, Edwin 
Markham, Buffalo Bill, Jack Dempsey, Calvin 
Coolidge, Rupert Hughes, Andre Herriot, Erich 
Remarque — he derives a quite unspoilt satisfac- 
tion from ten minutes or an evening with any of 
them. This human curiosity covers a far field. 
Laemmle looks for personal news of his staff the 
world over, and every day, with unfailing regu- 
larity, a copy of the local newspaper is posted to 
him from Laupheim. 

Stepping into one of the basket wheelers on 
the board-walk at Atlantic City, he asked the 
dishevelled old coloured man, who was to take 
him for an hour's ride, how business was. Natu- 
rally, business was far from good. "Never mind: it 



266 



CARL LAEMMLE 



may be better before the day is out," which 
proved handsomely to be the case. Giving liberally 
to two Jewish charitable organisations in South- 
ern Germany, at the same time he sent a sub- 
stantial contribution to the fund for repairing 
the spire of a Catholic church in Wiirttemberg. 
The sisters of the Catholic convent at Giinzburg 
near Laupheim being in severely straitened cir- 
cumstances, it was Carl, the son of Julius and 
Rebekka, who gave them relief. When he went 
to receive their thanks, they recited to him a poem 
of their own composition, very anxious in its 
gratitude. A girl from Laemmle's office, while 
away on sick-leave, wrote asking that some work 
might be sent for her to do, so that she could 
with an easier mind take the weekly expenses and 
salary that she was receiving. Regular instalments 
of discarded manuscripts were forwarded to her, 
she typed them, and returned them to the office 
with the copies, which were thereupon destroyed. 
I hope she heard of the friendly deception when 
she recovered and went back to her employment, 
as she did. A very small exhibitor from a very 
small town wrote to Laemmle that he had lost 
money on a Universal picture, which made him 
very unhappy. The president did not like him to 
be unhappy and sent his personal cheque to 
cover the deficit. 

In 1929, on sailing for his annual trip to Eu- 
rope, Laemmle was given an album congratulat- 



CHARACTER AGAIN 



267 



ing him on the twenty-third anniversary of his 
entry into the business, and signed by almost 
every exhibitor in the States. In making the pre- 
sentation, Mr. Peter Woodhull, president of the 
Motion Picture Theatre Owners of America, 
said: 

I know of no substitute for Carl Laemmle in this 
industry. You couldn't fool this industry and the 
people in it, and I sincerely hope, Sir — that you will 
live long to take part in the great progress that is 
going on at the present time. 

I think it was William Lowell who said, that 
times need new men and new methods and that 
laws become old quickly and that the laws that 
suited our fathers' time, do not suit us. I believe 
that is true; and in the progress of business, per- 
haps we do need new methods and new faces; but 
we never can supersede men of your type. I say this 
sincerely because you and I have known each other 
for many years. I don't believe there is a man who 
has come into contact with more officials in the 
industry than I, and it ought to be a great source 
of gratification to me to bring you the message, that 
when they vilify other officials, justly or unjustly, I 
have never heard anyone say anything derogatory 
of Carl Laemmle — that is honest. If there have been 
errors of omission or commission, which will come 
in any big business machine such as ours, no one 
has ever said that Carl Laemmle knew anything 
about them. This album has no intrinsic value, but 
I believe it comes to you surrounded in an atmos- 
phere of sincerity. I know you are going to cherish 
it. 



268 



CARL LAEMMLE 



In 1926, William Fox had said on a similar 
occasion, "You are the man with the greatest 
courage of all I knew in the picture business . . . 
and for you I have always had the greatest silent 
admiration, one I never expressed to you until 
this time." And tributes of a lighter grace have 
not been wanting. When he went south in 1929 to 
be a guest of honour at the New Orleans Mardi 
Gras, the Jockey Club named one of the events 
at its spring meeting The Carl Laemmle Handi- 
cap, and there was a scene of hardly temperate 
enthusiasm when he presented a loving cup to 
the winner. 

A story told by a film journal in 1926 affords a 
striking instance of the natural integrity that had 
added soundness to the personal grace of Laemm- 
le's reputation: 

If Carl Laemmle's word is as good as gold, it 
was evident many years ago. His word was given 
in Milwaukee when the theatre owners of the 
country were in need of something more than ver- 
bal encouragement. Universal Pictures Corporation 
gave his word to contribute $50,000. It was purely 
a matter of verbal sincerity. The first day for the 
material execution of these pledges fell due, and as 
you all know, some of them were executed, and 
some of them were not. Some of the pledgees wrote 
long letters. Some of the pledgees spoke long sen- 
tences, but Carl Laemmle had spoken at Mil- 
waukee. He had nothing further to write about, 
nothing further to say except to submit ... his 



CHARACTER AGAIN 



269 



cheque for $10,000. On the next date for the execu- 
tion of these Milwaukee pledges, some fell by the 
wayside with alibis long and short. Others just for- 
got, but Carl Laemmle's sincerity remained stead- 
fast. National headquarters received another cheque 
for $10,000.00 from the chieftain of the Universal 
Pictures Corporation, and so it has been on each 
and every one of these dates. 

On this occasion Laemmle was told that it was 
being said that he had fulfilled the unwritten 
obligation because he was alive to the advertise- 
ment value of such conduct. He merely said, 
"How can people think things like that?" 

In 1926, at the age of fifty-nine, Laemmle 
narrowly survived a serious illness. That in itself 
is not notable, but the circumstances are. He em- 
barked from New York one midsummer day with 
his daughter Rosabelle and his son on the Beren- 
garia, making for his European visit. As he got 
on the boat he was feeling unwell, and a few 
hours after sailing was suffering severe pain. The 
ship's surgeon was uncertain in his diagnosis, and 
Dr. Draper of Columbia University, who was a 
passenger, was called in for consultation. He con- 
sidered the seat of the trouble to be the appendix: 

The next morning the symptoms were aggra- 
vated, and Rosabelle Laemmle, sent a wireless 
message to Dr. Heiman, her father's physician in 
New York: 



270 



CARL LAEMMLE 



Come at once. Compensation no consideration. 
Drop your practice. Sail on Majestic to-day. Father 
very ill. Keep confidential. Communicate by radio. 

Dr. Heiman immediately telephoned to Wash- 
ington, and secured an emergency passport. His 
wife had arrived home from London on the pre- 
vious day; her trunk was still unpacked. She 
agreed to return with her husband, the last vacant 
state room on the Majestic was booked, and 
eleven hours after the summons was received, 
Dr. Heiman sailed. 

For four days the Berengaria exchanged wire- 
less messages with the Majestic forty-eight hours 
behind her on the Atlantic. Several times daily 
the patient's condition was reported, and advice 
as to treatment returned. Only in a last emer- 
gency was an operation to be performed on the 
boat. In the meantime, communication was made 
with London, Dr. Dunhill, of St. Bartholomew's 
Hospital, being asked to have the Berengaria met 
at Southampton. He sent a colleague, Dr. Ross, 
who attended a desperately sick man to a Park 
Lane nursing-home. 

A radiogram from the American on the in- 
coming Majestic gave the Englishman a full his- 
tory of the case, and made suggestions as to im- 
mediate measures to be taken. Students of com- 
parative economy may be interested to know that 
the wireless messages cost two hundred and fifty 
pounds. Acting in accordance with the informa- 



CHARACTER AGAIN 



271 



tion before him, Dr. Dunhill conducted a tap- 
ping operation with a local anaesthetic. Laemmle 
stood this, but Dr. Heiman arrived forty-eight 
hours later to find him in an exhausted condition, 
the continuous and acute pain having worn his 
resistance to a thread, and the heart being on the 
point of collapse. 

There followed a struggle in which the two 
doctors worked with a disinterested co-operation 
that was a credit to medicine. Stimulative re- 
sources kept the merest spark of life from extinc- 
tion, but on the fifth day after the operation, total 
collapse of the patient took place. An immediate 
blood transfusion was given, and Laemmle rallied 
for twenty-four hours. A second collapse fol- 
lowed, another blood transfusion was given, and 
four hours later yet a third. Five doctors in con- 
sultation agreed that there was but the faintest 
element of hope. 

The American proposed a saline injection with 
a large size hypodermic needle in the region of 
the heart. It was objected that the cold shock 
would be beyond the patient's utterly enfeebled 
power of resistance. Dr. Heiman suggested the 
use of a thermos bottle whereby the fluid could 
be run in at a safe temperature. It was agreed 
by the consultants that at least no harm would 
be done by this, and with now apparently nothing 
to lose, Dr. Heiman prepared his solution. At 
the first injection a quart was given, being al- 



272 



CARL LAEMMLE 



lowed to flow slowly about the tissues of the 
breast. 

We need not attach undue importance to this 
measure in itself, but it probably provided the 
critical atom of energy that enabled the blood 
transfusion to take effect. In any case, as the 
saline solution spread over the tissues, there came 
a faint reaction from the all but extinct pulse. 
Another quart injection was made, and then 
another. Laemmle, motionless in a pallor as of 
death, called up from some secret reserves of 
physical character a last unconscious but desperate 
defiance. For twenty-eight hours his American 
and English physicians sat at his bed-side, watch- 
ing minute by minute the movement of the pulse. 
Almost imperceptibly it brightened. A mouthful 
of orange-juice was swallowed, later another, and 
then half a pint. The defiance was making good. 
Other fluid nourishment was taken, the pulse 
gathered life, and at the end of the twenty-eight 
hour vigil the crisis passed. Five weeks later 
Laemmle left the nursing home, and after a fur- 
ther week in London went on to Carlsbad in a 
state of cheerful convalescence. 

Our comparative economist again may like to 
know what Dr. Heiman's fee was for services 
that covered a period of seven weeks from the 
day he left New York. I cannot enlighten him; 
but Laemmle, regarding it as inadequate, made 
his own estimate at twenty-five thousand dollars. 



CHARACTER AGAIN 



273 



When news reached Universal City that their 
chief was out of clanger, two thousand employ- 
ees assembled in the open and offered thanks- 
giving. The scene was a strange one. Players, 
directors, clerks, mechanics, labourers, stars and 
casuals, all the vivid human patchwork that en- 
livens the daily commerce of a great picture "lot," 
deeply stirred, some to tears, some to prayer, and 
all to unfeigned gratitude that Uncle Carl was 
coming back to them. 

And when he reached New York there was a 
mayoral committee on the pier, and a blaze of 
jazz along Fifth Avenue. These people of the 
movies, bless their silly hearts, are so volatile in 
their emotions, so readily demonstrative. We con- 
template them indulgently as they festoon them- 
selves for this unspectacular gentleman who, 
after twenty years of creditable plain-dealing, has 
been snatched from the valley of the shadow. 
Funny, sensational people, with their misplaced, 
shallow sentiment. How much more discreetly 
do we spend our enthusiasms, investing, for ex- 
ample, the fearful tragedy of Beauvais with mock 
heroics, or awarding civic garlands to the lady 
who first ate a legislative apple. They give no 
civil decorations in America ; on the other hand, 
it is not on record that Carl Laemmle ever ex- 
claimed to his cheering escorts: "Please, I want 
everyone to call me Lemmy." 

The Universal employees not only met and 



274 



CARL LAEMMLE 



prayed; they subscribed a sum of money for the 
purchase of one of those tangible tokens of esteem 
that are so palatably the salt of good-will. It 
seemed, however, that the hero of the occasion 
already possessed most of the things that he 
would like. But he had endowed a room in the 
Los Angeles Orthopaedic Foundation, and it was 
decided to devote the money to the better equip- 
ment of this. Laemmle thought that was a very 
acceptable present indeed. The first occupant of 
the room when it was opened, it may be noted, 
had been the son of a rival motion-picture pro- 
ducer. He was a small and poor rival, which 
again shows what sentimental ways they have. 

Like many men who have fought hard, 
Laemmle is a pacifist. Threaten him with in- 
justice, and he will fight like a fury; but leave 
him alone, and there is no firmer faith than his 
in the principle of live and let live. The thought 
of actual war fills him with terror. Although his 
son was immediately responsible for "All Quiet," 
it was naturally with his own sanction, and his 
satisfaction in the picture was largely due to his 
belief that it was effective anti-war propaganda. 
The following passage from a speech broadcast 
in America by David Schenker shows that the 
belief was shared in other quarters: 

In the State of Thuringia, Germany, the Minister 
of Education, Dr. Frick, a member of the fascist 



CHARACTER AGAIN 



275 



party, has banned Erich Maria Remarque's book, 
"All Quiet on the Western Front," from public and 
high schools. The fascist organ announcing this 
momentous decision says, "It is time to stop the 
infection of the schools with pacifist propaganda." 
I wonder if Dr. Frick has banned the Bible, for if 
he hasn't, I certainly think he should, because he 
will find that the Bible is a very pacifistic book. For 
Dr. Frick's information, let me quote Isaiah, the 
prophet, predicting the coming of the time when 
there will be good will among men, said, "They 
shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their 
spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift 
sword against nation, and neither shall they learn 
war any more." 

Yes, Dr. Frick, the Bible is a pacifist book, and 
thank God some people still read the Bible. Mr. 
Carl Laemmle must be a reader of the Bible, be- 
cause he has seen the vision of Isaiah and that is 
why he bought the picture rights to "All Quiet on 
the Western Front." 

A reviewer in the Dayton Sunday Journal re- 
cently made the somewhat startling statement: 

Carl Laemmle, who produced "All Quiet on the 
Western Front," has been mentioned as a possible 
recipient of the Nobel peace prize. If such a con- 
summation comes about a dual purpose will be 
served, for not only will this pioneer of the motion- 
picture industry be receiving a well-merited reward 
but recognition will be given to the influence of the 
cinema art as it relates to matters of world concern. 



276 



CARL LAEMMLE 



And yet, not really so startling after all. The sug- 
gestion is irresponsible in overlooking the claims 
of Erich Remarque in the matter, but a joint 
award to Remarque, Laemmle, and possibly 
Lewis Milestone would by no means be irre- 
sponsible. Another writer, Kenneth C. Beaton, 
has put the case so reasonably that I take leave 
to borrow his words: 

Three times the prize has come to America; in 
1906 to Theodore Roosevelt, in 1912 to Elihu Root, 
and in 1918 to Woodrow Wilson. Roosevelt got it 
for his activities in bringing to an end the Russian- 
Japanese war, Root for his participation in the or- 
ganisation of a Permanent Court of Arbitration, and 
Wilson for his efforts in connection with the world 
war. 

Statesmen, all of these men, and perhaps it does 
appear to be a far cry from them to Carl Laemmle. 
But it really isn't. Let's take Wilson and Laemmle 
for instance. Somewhere, back in the heads of both 
of these men, there was, in the one instance and 
there is in the other, a desire to do something for 
the good of mankind. Wilson died in the doing of 
it, but Laemmle has gone along and is still going, 
and if you have ever talked with him you will know 
that his dream is always of something a little bigger 
than just making pictures that will "click" in the 
box-offices. 

I won't say for Uncle Carl that he is always clear 
in his ideas as to what he should do, but I do know 
that when you know him you must accept him as a 
disciple of peace and good-will to all mankind. 

And, anyway, it was Carl Laemmle who made 



CHARACTER AGAIN 



277 



it possible for the world to see "All Quiet on the 
Western Front." And I don't know how many re- 
views of this picture I have read, but I do know 
that in all of them there has been the suggestion 
that nothing that has ever been done in print or on 
the stage or on the screen, or by statesmen wearing 
the halo of presidential or kingly favour, has been 
more potent in pointing out the devastating horrors 
of a world war. 

And why, therefore, should not Carl Laemmle 
have the Nobel Peace Prize? Why shouldn't Will 
Hays and Louis Mayer and Joseph Schenck and 
Sam Goldwyn and all the rest of those who are 
interested in the screen go out into the big world 
and proclaim the right of Uncle Carl to the 35,000 
dollar prize and the honour that goes with it? 
Rightly they may ask what Roosevelt or Root or 
Wilson and any of the rest of the foreign gentle- 
men or of the peace societies who have been 
awarded the prize, ever did more for the peace of 
the world than Carl Laemmle has with "Western 
Front." 

These men and societies to whom the award here- 
tofore has been made mostly have started at the top 
and worked downward. Carl Laemmle has started 
at the bottom. He has started with the youth that 
pays its way into the picture theatres throughout 
the world. He has made it possible for everyone to 
see past the mouthings of frock-coated orators; past 
the million dollar-a-year man; past the circulation- 
seeking newspapers; past all of these and into the 
twilight of life where youth goes on the world's 
battlefields, not knowing what it is all about, and 
dies, not knowing what the answer is. 



278 



CARL LAEMMLE 



We see this man of large achievement, himself 
projected on to a screen of rapid and kaleido- 
scopic change, equally intent on small or memor- 
able events. To a friend at Marietta Springs he 
proposed a hand at poker ; yes, if the friend may 
set the stakes. Agreed; and Laemmle with his 
companion sits down to an evening at a one cent 
limit. He wins twenty-eight cents, and is as well 
content as if it were twenty-eight hundred dol- 
lars. His sixtieth birthday banquet is attended by 
seven hundred film celebrities; the stewards are 
Rupert Hughes, Marcus Loew, Samuel Goldwyn, 
Douglas Fairbanks, Jesse Lasky, Irving Thal- 
berg, Will Hays and Mary Pickford, whose first 
IMP picture, made sixteen years ago, is shown 
for the entertainment of the company. Somebody 
effusively kisses Laemmle's hand; he is some- 
body not ethically in favour, and Laemmle's com- 
panion notes the hand being furtively brushed 
against the hem of the table-cloth. A boy on the 
"lot" has been negligent, and is to be discharged. 
Laemmle hears of it. What is the boy's explana- 
tion? He has not been asked to give one. That 
will not do. Everyone must always be given a 
chance to explain, and generally, if he cannot do 
it very well, a chance to explain better another 
time. Abraham Lincoln once wrote to Stanton, 
his Secretary of War: 



CHARACTER AGAIN 



279 



My dear Sir, — 

. . . Blumenberg, at Baltimore, I think he should 
have a hearing. He has suffered for us and served 
us well — had the rope around his neck for being our 
friend — raised troops— fought, and been wounded. 
He should not be dismissed in a way that disgraces 
and ruins him without a hearing. 

Yours truly, 

A. Lincoln. 

Lincoln knew how Stanton would hate that, and 
he had a deep respect for Stanton. But there was 
Blumenberg. And somebody important, doubt- 
less, is much displeased at not being permitted to 
discharge an office boy when he will. Laemmle 
has no wish to offend somebody important; but 
there is the office boy. 



CHAPTER XVII 



IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME 

A certain portrait and a handkerchief have 
never left his pocket since the day in January, 
19 1 9, when Mrs. Laemmle died. They had been 
married for twenty-two years. Through many 
vicissitudes of fortune that blessing had remained 
constant. 

His daughter was then fifteen years old, his son 
eleven. In them he has kept his youth, and an 
unfading memory. He has a simple, humorous 
talent for home-life, and it has never been allowed 
to rust. He postponed an important business 
meeting in Chicago in order not to miss his son's 
twenty-first birthday party in Los Angeles, and 
when Rosabelle was married there was no vacant 
number on his dance programme. I am told that 
he was unerring in his choice of good-looking 
partners. And a jest is as pleasing to him as a 
pretty girl. His general manager was about to 
leave for Europe. Laemmle asked how long he 
intended to be away, and was told three months. 
"That's great. I'll save five hundred dollars a 

280 



IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME 281 



month on poker for three months" — he has, in 
fact, the reputation among his friends of being 
the world's imluckiest player — "Good-bye, and 
good luck." Touring in Yellowstone Park with 
Siegfried Laemmle, he remarked as the car was 
halted for the fiftieth time to accommodate his 
brother's Kodak, "Say, I'm the Laemmle that's 
Universal Pictures. You lay off." 

The confidence shown by Laemmle in his son, 
is in keeping with his general attitude towards 
youth. He delights in young people, delights par- 
ticularly in giving young talent its opportunity. 
He is accessible to any youngster with an idea, 
sometimes, perhaps, too accessible. His managers 
and his secretaries, as Jack Ross and Harry Zehner, 
have known their difficulties in keeping him from 
the blandishments of eager-eyed young people 
who peddle in the confines of Universal City and 
Fifth Avenue with a large assortment of mares' 
nests, white elephants and very well-cooked chest- 
nuts. But Laemmle, in his enthusiasm for youth, 
and young himself in spirit as he is, makes no 
concealment of his 'loyalty to old habits, old 
friends, and old experience. Many a weighty de- 
cision made in reference to the standards of mod- 
ern business has been influenced by some example 
drawn from the humble occasions of the Con- 
tinental Store in Oshkosh thirty years ago. A 
crowned head or the President of a republic is 
likely to remind him of the cobbler who mended 



282 



CARL LAEMMLE 



his shoes in Laupheim when Wagner was writing 
"Parsifal." He kept a locomobile ten years after 
it was obsolete, because he liked the back seat bet- 
ter than any that he could find in later cars. 
Wherever he travels he takes with him a special 
make of feather pillow for which no substitute 
would be tolerable. When he passes through Chi- 
cago, he is unsettled if a porter of his old ac- 
quaintance is not waiting on the platform for the 
train. But the porter is always there. His family 
was in serious financial straits: but that, it seems, 
is no longer the case. 

Also, Laemmle's lifelong habit for detail has 
remained with him. He wants daily accounts of 
all his operations, and they must be exact to a 
dollar. If he finds a letter going out of his offices 
overstamped, attention is drawn to it, and he is an 
adept at eliminating unnecessary words from tele- 
grams and cables. Switches and taps, he believes, 
are intended to economise, not to waste, light and 
water. He emulates King George III in arrang- 
ing his personal time-table to the minute — he will 
make an appointment for 1 1 127 a.m. or 3 : 12 p.m. 
He keeps an infinite litter of memoranda, mostly 
noted on odd scraps and tags of paper, suggestions 
from every kind of source, fugitive ideas, strays of 
information, instructive figures, miscellaneous im- 
pressions. 

But this precise regulation of trifles is not al- 
lowed to impair the breath and vigour of his busi- 



IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME 283 

ness methods. When abroad in 1929 his cable bill 
amounted to a thousand pounds. On a journey he 
refuses to pass any place of interest that can be 
reached, he will stop anywhere to see a race or fish 
a stream, and when the United States Fisheries 
accorded him the rare privilege of visiting their 
trout hatchery at Peale Island he was in a flutter 
of delight about it. But on his journeys, too, he 
must be met at every stopping place by his local 
staff, and five minutes or a day devoted to the ad- 
justment of Universal affairs. 

Laemmle's anxiety to give everyone a chance, 
and anyone who may need it a second chance, is 
strikingly exemplified in an incident that took 
place in 19 1 5. Samuel Mott Osborne, chief warden 
at Sing Sing prison, was actively interested in 
finding openings for convicts who had served their 
terms with good records. Laemmle offered to find 
employment for two of these. They went to him, 
the past was treated as a sealed book, and every 
opportunity was given them for advancement. It 
is reassuring to know that under new names they 
made good, and that to-day they are both happily 
established in jobs to which they have done credit. 

With Laemmle, too, originated the practice of 
exhibiting pictures in Sing Sing for the benefit of 
the inmates. One of these was shown as "The 
Photoplay Without a Name," and Laemmle of- 
fered a prize of fifty dollars for the best title sub- 
mitted by a convict. From a melancholy aggregate 



284 



CARL LAEMMLE 



of four thousand entries, "Folly's Crucible" was 
selected. The winner left prison a few weeks later, 
and subscribed ten dollars of his prize to the Mu- 
tual Welfare League. 

In 1926 Laemmle gave a scholarship for the 
best study of Victor Hugo's works; among the 
examiners was Dr. Nicholas Murray Butler, in 
itself a sufficient testimony of the status of the 
endowment. A year later he inaugurated The 
Laemmle Award — since discontinued — an an- 
nual prize of five thousand dollars to be given to 
the journalist, man or woman, who in the ordi- 
nary course of business made the most constructive 
suggestions for the advancement of motion-picture 
production. 

Generous in these large financial matters, 
Laemmle is punctilious in small ones. It is his 
practice to settle all personal bills within twenty- 
four hours, and he is disturbed if he hears of an 
employee being in debt. Learning that one of the 
boys on his stafr owed another ten dollars, he 
paid the sum, and gave the debtor a suitable raise 
with the warning that he was not to owe anyone 
ten dollars again. 

Carl Laemmle likes movement. When driving 
in his car, no longer the locomobile, his seat is in 
the right-hand corner. That is his special place, 
and no one, not even his son or daughter, would 
think of taking it when he is out with them. There 
he sits, a quiet, contented man as age comes on, 



IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME 285 



rich as ever in ardours, but happy now sometimes 
to let contemplation succeed more urgent moods. 
He will time the mileage, glad when he finds that 
he has done so to a few seconds. Or he will hum 
to himself the airs of Wagner, or Gilbert and 
Sullivan, or Puccini. At most of the places on the 
road there are people to be seen. He has an en- 
cyclopaedic memory for friends, indeed for ac- 
quaintances, and he will stop merely to visit the 
relatives of an employee. It is seldom that he fails 
to remember a name, even to its middle initial. 
And always in the stillness of his mind is the 
recollection of those other friends whom he left 
in Laupheim half a century ago. When he visited 
his birthplace in his sixtieth year half the town 
turned out to do him homage. 

In Laupheim I myself saw them at another 
time. It was then the fiftieth anniversary of some 
military event, and the burghers passed on parade, 
not at all discouraged by a steady July rain. In a 
motley of faded uniforms and yet more faded 
frock coats that once were black, some walked, 
shouldering umbrellas in default of muskets, 
others drove in fiacres that might have seen ser- 
vice at Sedan. Banners borne on poles across the 
street were decorated with symbolic sausages and 
loaves of bread, whatever their significance might 
be. A thousand medals, polished to a starry lustre, 
twinkled on the heavy gloom of the day. A few 
martial looking Uhlans with their lances escorted 



286 



CARL LAEMMLE 



the procession, and they seemed to belong to an 
order that had paid in its checks. But the veterans 
in their tarnished uniforms, frock coats, and top 
hats, were mostly youths in Laupheim when Carl 
Laemmle was a child. These were the men who 
went to his home in homage, thanking him that 
he had aided their town, his town, at need. 

As he drives in the right-hand corner seat of 
his car, Laemmle remembers them, and above all 
he remembers certain graves in the Jewish burial 
ground. He remembers street-corners, and stair- 
cases, and shop windows; a little blue pond in 
Blaubeuren. Since then he has seen so much more 
than is dreamt of in Laupheim philosophy, seen 
so many things in New York and Chicago and 
Oshkosh and California, fought such a devil of a 
fight, and made is it some six thousand motion- 
pictures. He has become an Honorary Member 
of this association, a Fellow of that society, the 
last surviving active pioneer of the great industry 
that he helped to make, and one of its most power- 
ful executives in the new age of sound. But the 
old Wurttemberger strain survives, and through 
all the turbulent years the quiet voices of Laup- 
heim and Ichenhausen have never quite been 
stilled. As he drives in his car, he hears them, with 
an unregretful tenderness, knowing that he was 
destined from the first for a wider, more experi- 
mental, less tranquil state than that of their daily 
intercourse, but knowing too that there has always 




CARL LAEMMLE AND CAROL 
LAEMMLE BERGERMAN 



IN THE FULLNESS OF TIME 287 



remained in him something not alien from their 
tones. 

Of his own generation, Siegfried and Louis 
alone are left with him, Joseph, who sent him his 
ticket to come to Chicago from New York in 
1884, having died in 1929 past the age of seventy- 
five. His own children have but a rumour of the 
old world in their blood, and now the little girl, 
Julius Baruch's great-grand-daughter, comes with 
a span of a hundred and ten years bridging the 
four generations. If she should live to be an old 
lady, she may tell her own great-grandchildren of 
an ancestor who was born in Southern Germany 
in 1820, the year which saw the death of the Eng- 
lish King against whom Washington had revolted. 
But she will tell them more of that old man's 
son who came to their America in a year when 
Ulysses Grant was dying, Woodrow Wilson was 
doing graduate work at the Johns Hopkins Uni- 
versity, John D. Rockefeller's conquest of the Oil 
Regions had become absolute, and Robert Frost, 
Carl Sandberg and Vachel Lindsay were in the 
nursery. 

What, in that far time, may have become of 
motion-pictures we cannot know. But whatever 
their future may be, the days of their inception can 
never be a story without its own romance. In it, 
Carl Laemmle must remain one of the most mem- 
orable figures, a hard fighter, a clear-sighted pio- 
neer, a determined leader, a good man. Among 



288 



CARL LAEMMLE 



the special treasures of his mind are these words, 
once spoken by Abraham Lincoln: 

I do the very best I know how, the very best I 
can: and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If 
the end brings me out all right, what is said against 
me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me 
out wrong, ten thousand angels swearing I was 
right would make no difference. 

Uncle Carl Laemmle, too, will keep on doing that 
until the end. 



THE END 



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